Dean On Campus Blog

The Power of Advocacy and Civic Professionalism

I am thrilled to share the following guest blog by Dr. Chris Simpson, Vice-Dean (Clinical), School of Medicine and Medical Director, Southeastern Ontario Academic Medical Organization (SEAMO) who profiles the important work of Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer who serves as Head, Department of Oncology.

“Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale. Medicine as a social science, as the science of human beings, has the obligation to point out problems and to attempt their theoretical solution; the politician, the practical anthropologist, must find the means for their actual solution” – Rudolf Virchow

It can be pretty easy to be cynical these days. Polarized politics in the United States had led to “fake news” and a new culture of political double-speak that many are calling the “post-truth” era. Here in Ontario, we are witnessing a particularly nasty fight between the Ontario Medical Association and the provincial government. In hospitals across Canada, we struggle with continuous “Code Gridlock” in an environment of increasingly restricted resources. True health care reform seems as far out of reach as ever.

And so it is nice sometimes to reflect on our successes; to shine a light on those in our midst who are providing positive, inspired leadership, driven by the noble ideals of the profession.

I have long admired Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer, our Head of Oncology here at Queen’s. Her voice around leadership tables is always so thoughtful and reflective, yet decisive. She is poised and eloquent, but also quite tenacious and driven. Most importantly, however, her heart is always in the right place. She is an authentic physician leader whose long list of achievements has not dulled her inner passion for doing the right things for the right reasons. People trust Elizabeth.

So it was not surprising to me when, about three years ago, she landed in my office with all of her trademark enthusiasm on display, declaring that she had come up with a “wonderful idea”.

That is how the Canadian Tobacco Endgame Summit was born. We talked for two hours, becoming increasingly excited about an idea whose time had come: mapping out a plan to chart the end of tobacco in Canada – a national end-game.

What happened next was truly remarkable, and I had a front row seat to the whole thing. Off the side of her desk, Elizabeth assembled a steering committee of key experts in medicine, tobacco control, law; representatives from the regulatory bodies, numerous stakeholder NGOs (including the CMA), and others. She secured funding, organized meetings, and planned the end-game summit. What makes all this so remarkable, I think, is that it was readily apparent to me and to all that no one but Elizabeth would have been able to pull this off. She is indefatigable. She is relentlessly positive and optimistic. She brings genuine authenticity as a sincere advocate who is doing this from the heart, but also tremendous credibility as an internationally renowned cancer researcher and respected medical leader. When she asked people to do something, they did it for Elizabeth more than they did it for the project. No one wanted to disappoint her. Her vision was clear, and no one doubted for a moment that what we were doing was something very special.

She is an inspiring figure; one who cloaks her brilliance in humility, who leads by example, whose eloquent oratory always seems to capture all the nuances of the moment and keeps everyone motivated and focused.

The very audacity of declaring that a tobacco endgame is something that Canada would be even remotely ready for had all its sharp edges filed down as Elizabeth exercised her highly effective personal leadership style, gently persuaded and chided, and leveraged her considerable intellectual assets.

The summit was a tremendous success. The participants were a “who’s who” of tobacco control, public health, and medical leadership, including Dr. Laurent Marcoux, the CMA President-elect. The background paper can be found here: Tobacco Endgame Summit

“Less than 5 by ’35” was the summit’s rallying cry – we aim to reduce the national smoking rate to less than 5% by 2035.

Last week was the icing on the cake. The federal government announced that it is redoubling its efforts in tobacco control (Seizing the Opportunity: The Future of Tobacco Control in Canada), launching public consultations enroute to a renewed plan that will aim to reduce smoking in Canada to less than 5% by 2035.

Inspired leadership. Powerful advocacy. Meaningful impact. Dr. Eisenhauer serves as an effective antidote to all the cynicism and negativity of our times by personifying civic professionalism at its very best.

6 Responses to The Power of Advocacy and Civic Professionalism

  1. paul armstrong says:

    Thank you for the elegant exposition of Elizabeth’s remarkable work. Hats off to her for this stellar contribution. The civic professionalism of which you speak aligns well with the social contract we physicians have with society. Her work in this domain is an eloquent testimony of how publically funded and priviledged professionals can and should give back to those we serve.

    • Thanks, Paul – Canadians expect and deserve leadership from their physicians. Our duty is to serve our patients, our country, and all of humanity. Elizabeth exemplifies all that is good and noble in our profession.

    • reznickr says:

      Dear Paul,

      Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that Elizabeth’s work is a shining example of what we speak to in the misssion of our Faculty to be socially accountable.


  2. M Newhouse says:

    This initiative is long overdue and it is marvellous that Elizabeth will be driving it! Its success will depend on her well known drive and diplomacy- both will be needed in spades. Clearly getting kids not to start smoking would be optimal.
    A major problem for getting current nicotine addicted smokers to quit is availability of a Canada-wide effective program to assist them to do so. In this regard successive federal and provincial governments have been totally incompetent if not negligent!
    About 13-14 years ago I attempted to bring a successful quit-smoking program, developed by Dr David Sachs at Stanford, as a 5 year demonstration model, to McMaster University. Indeed, Dr Sachs was prepared to come to McMaster to get it going. Through the good ofices of the Liutenant Governor, I contacted the Ontario deputy minister of health to discuss the program with him. He did not think that it would be useful for us to meet since they had already committed to a $3,000,000 program of billboards with the message “Joe quit smoking-so can you” and a phone number to call for a brocure!
    If this program was effective or not we will never know since no evaluation was ever undertaken. When I related this to Lincoln Alexander he smiled and asked if I believed that the ministry actually wanted smokers to stop?
    By nature, I am not a cynic but could the government’s need the cigarette tax money be behind their failure to provide a really effective program? Surely not!
    Good luck to Elizabeth and colleagues this time since smoking related disease costs society much more than an effective cessation program would cost!
    Cheers, Michael Newhouse MD MSc FRCP (C) Clinical Professor of Medicine
    McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences

    • reznickr says:

      Dear Michael,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment and interesting story. It, I am sure, joins a long list of stories that make one scratch their head, given that this is our number 1 public health concern. I agree with you that Elizabeth’s leadership in this has been outstanding and I am so please at the traction the Summit has received.


  3. Bill Moore Meds ''62 says:

    Queen’s is so fortunate to have Dr. Eisenhauer’s dedicated and effective medical-social leadership! Many of us know or have treated people who were/perhaps still are smokers despite the overwhelming evidence of related perils. During a recent routine medical appointment I mentioned several friends (including a physician and a nurse) who are suffering from relentlessly progressive COPD and said how fortunate I felt for never having started or trying to quit. The doctor fully agreed with me because she sees and treats aging patients now faced with the devastating effects of chronic smoking.

    I expect and hope that every student entering or departing Queen’s is convinced that life can be longer and better without the predictable hazards of smoking. COPD is a grim way for living one’s later years.

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