Pivotal Court Battle Raging in British Columbia: Should preferential health care be available to those who can afford it?

A rather fierce and highly significant battle is raging in the courts of British Columbia. At stake is the future of private payer medical care in Canada. Many feel that what’s really at stake is the future of universal health care in Canada. Pragmatically, the issue boils down to whether decisions about when and how patients get care should be determined solely by need, or whether those with resources should be able to access alternative routes, and whether physicians should be allowed to provide those alternatives.

The Globe and Mail

At the centre of all this is Dr. Brian Day, an orthopedic surgeon and former president of the Canadian Medical Association, who is the Medical Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver, which opened in 1996 and has been offering and providing services to insured and privately paying patients. It has been doing so despite (in the case of the privately paying patients) being in violation of the B.C. Medicare Protection Act, which prohibits physicians from working in public and private systems at the same time or, more precisely, from charging patients for publicly covered services. It also prohibits the sale of private insurance for medically necessary hospital and physician care (insurance is permitted for care not covered by the public system). It seems that for the past 20+ years the government has either made only half-hearted attempts to enforce the law, or simply “looked the other way”.

It appears that current governments are much more committed to enforce the letter of the law, and Dr. Day has mounted a challenge based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He and his lawyers argue that the Charter-provided right to pursue life, liberty and personal security extends to the right to pay for care when someone feels the public system doesn’t provide it to their satisfaction. They make it clear that they are not opposed to medicare or interested in dismantling it. They point to effective blended public/private provision in many countries, claim no evidence of harm and opine that it may actually benefit the public system by “off-loading” some patients. In their closing arguments (as reported in the Globe and Mail November 13, 2019) his lawyers claim:

“Allowing British Columbians to obtain private medically necessary services would not result in any harm to either the accessibility or viability of the public health-care system, as demonstrated by the experience over the past 20 years in British Columbia, when the prohibitions on access to diagnostic and surgical services were not enforced.”

“Further, the government cannot justify imposing severe mental and physician harm on some residents on the basis of an ideological commitment to perfect equality in access to treatment, which is neither created by the legislation in question nor obtained in practice.”

There is, as one might imagine, considerable opinion to the contrary. It comes from groups such as the BC Health Coalition, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, and many individual physicians and patients who have put forward rather strongly worded counter-arguments. They feel the presence of condoned private care in BC will set precedents for the rest of Canada and undermine the principle of universal care by siphoning physicians, nurses, therapists and technicians to potentially more lucrative opportunities in the private sector. In the case of physicians, they feel this is a betrayal of the publicly financed education they’ve been provided.

The case, which has been ongoing for several months, is now in the hands of BC Supreme Court Justice John Steeves who must decide whether the BC Medicare Protection Act indeed violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom.

This impending decision, indeed this very issue, is highly significant not only for those in the medical community, but for every Canadian. Medicare has taken on a special place in Canadian cultural identity. It has become a defining element of the national character, and a source of pride of all citizens. If there are any “sacred cows” in Canadian politics, Medicare would certainly be one. But its introduction and maintenance have been far from easy.

Chief among the challenges has been the division of federal and provincial responsibility and, therefore, funding. The British North America Act of 1867 establishes among the exclusive powers of provincial legislatures,

“the Establishment, Maintenance, and Management of Hospitals, Asylums, Charities and Eleemosynary Institutions in and for the Province, other than Marine Hospitals.”

The provision of so-called comprehensive Medicare began in a piecemeal fashion in the 1940s, but gained momentum in the 1960s, largely through the efforts of the then premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas. A key step along the way was the passage in Saskatchewan in 1961 of the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act which basically guaranteed health coverage to all citizens. That included physician fees, and so Section 18 of the act includes the following:

“No physician or other person who provides an insured service to a beneficiary shall demand or accept payment for that service.”

Thus, direct physician billing to patients was essentially outlawed. Mr. Douglas turned his attention to the federal scene as he became leader of the New Democratic Party and his efforts were instrumental in the passage of the Medical Care Act of 1966, which obligated the federal government to provide half the provincial and territorial costs for medical services provided for a doctor outside hospitals. By 1972, all the provinces and territories had some form of plan to reimburse for physician services. The Canada Health Act of 1984 states in its preamble the primary objective:

to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.”

Like British Columbia, the provinces have developed legislation designed to ensure universal and funded provision of care. In Ontario the Health Care Accessibility Act of 1986 essentially outlawed billing of patients outside the provincial insurance plan, and has been subsequently reinforced by versions of the Commitment to Future of Medicare Act.

And so, what are the considerations that are likely going through Justice Steeves mind as he ponders this momentous decision?It seems obvious that government-supported medicare has the considerable advantage of ensuring a standard level of care to all patients regardless of their economic means, and of ensuring physicians are compensated.

  • It seems obvious that government-supported medicare has considerable advantage of ensuring a standard level of care to all patients regardless of their economic means, and of ensuring physicians are compensated for their services.
  • There seems little doubt that a decision in favour of privately funded clinics will give rise to many similar operations throughout the country, particularly in large urban centres.
  • The risk of an exodus of talent from the public to private system seems real.
  • There are, indeed, many examples from other countries supporting the concept that the two systems can co-exist. However, it would seem that’s only true if there is some provision for mandatory participation of physicians in the public system.
  • It’s becoming apparent that the ability to fully fund “universal” care solely through the public coffer is not sustainable. We’re seeing examples of this almost daily. Hospitals, despite best efforts, are going beyond budgets to provide care, and there are clearly insufficient options for the care of needy outpatients.   Not only is the population getting larger and older, but highly effective (and very costly) therapies have emerged and are continuing to emerge for the treatment of conditions that previously had no options other than palliation. Wait times are certainly lengthening, and “hallway medicine” becoming the norm.
  • There’s no question that for many procedures with very long wait times, such as hip and knee surgeries, the critical bottleneck is not the availability of qualified physicians, but rather access to hospitals and operating rooms which could, theoretically, be at least partially addressed by providing privately funded facilities.
  • What effect a private system would have on public system wait times is, we must honestly admit, unknown and can’t be reliably projected. It will depend, to a large extent how many private facilities emerge, what services are provided, and what constraints are put on the providers.  

A critical and rather sobering consideration in all this is that the success or failure of any blended private/public model may hinge on the willingness of physicians to continue to provide care to patients regardless of ability to pay. It will test and expose their motivations and priorities. It will test their allegiance to the principles the profession has always espoused, expressed in the words of the World Health Association Oath, and taken in by most medical students, including those at Queen’s:

“I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, gender, politics, socioeconomic standing, or sexual orientation to intervene between my duty and my patient”

Those who so vehemently oppose privately funded care apparently believe physicians will abandon these principles in favour of personal income. I believe, and hope, that they’re wrong. Whatever the outcome of this court case, I choose to believe that physicians will continue to use their training and skills as they were intended, for the benefit of all.   

The issue of whether well-resourced citizens have a charter-assured right to more expeditious health care, and whether that privilege impinges on the rights of the less-well-resourced, seems beyond objective analysis and, in my view, is best left in the hands of a fair- minded and impartial judiciary. In the end, our system for deciding such dilemmas has been well thought out, and is worthy of our trust.

Godspeed, Justice Steeves.

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Our Aesculapian Society – Contributing to a Long Tradition of Collaboration and Service

The medical student society at Queen’s dates back to 1872 and is named in honor of Aesculepius, the mythological Greek figure considered the god of medicine. In fact, Aesculepius had five daughters each of whom represented some aspect of medicine considered essential to health. Hygieia was the goddess of cleanliness, Iaso the goddess of recuperation from illness, Aceso the goddess of the healing process, Aegle the goddess of good health and Panacea the goddess of remedies. The Greeks, it seems, knew something about social determinants of health and the value of personal wellness.

I’m very pleased to see that our current students are keeping the long tradition alive and contributing to the health of their fellow students and the learning community. The article that follows from our current and immediate past Aesculapian Society presidents (Danny Jomaa and Rae Woodhouse) describes their recent successful efforts to establish a fitness facility within the hospital. In doing do, they got great support from Mr. Chris Gillies and Mr. Adam Bondy of KGH.

Congratulations to Danny, Rae and all their AS colleagues. Aesculepius would be proud. I know we are.

Anthony Sanfilippo

Associate Dean

Undergraduate Medical Education

The Aesculapian Society is thrilled to announce the opening of a dedicated gym for medical students and residents in Kingston General Hospital (KGH). This project has been a year in the making and has been a collaborative effort between the Aesculapian Society, the Professional Association of Residents of Ontario (PARO), and the KGH administration. In early 2018, the Aesculapian Society set out to utilize a pool of funding to benefit current and future medical students. From student consultation, two projects were selected to be pursued further. The first was a revitalization of the kitchenette in the School of Medicine Building and the second was the creation of a gym in KGH. The latter was selected due to its focus on student wellbeing – a widely recognized priority at the School of Medicine. This idea stemmed from an Aesculapian Society Initiatives Grant proposal that was originally submitted in 2017 by Dr. Matthew McIntosh (MEDS 2018). The first step was finding a suitable space for the creation of this gym. In collaboration with Chris Gilles (KGH Director of Medical Affairs) and the Queen’s PARO Executive team, an under-utilized lounge in KGH was selected to be the new space for the medical student and resident gym. The timing could not be more serendipitous; the hospital’s insurance policy had recently approved the creation of a gym, which had been a long-time priority for physicians and residents alike. The newly completed gym, located on Connell 6, includes a range of cardio equipment, strength equipment, and fitness accessories.

The success of this project was possible because of the many individuals that contributed to each step of the gym’s creation. We would like to especially thank Chris Gillies and Adam Bondy (Project Coordinator) from KGH for championing the implementation and set-up of this project. We would also like to thank PARO for their generous provision of space and collaboration. Finally, this project would not have been realized without the dedication and enthusiasm of the Aesculapian Society Councils of 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. We would like to extend our gratitude to the students that supported this initiative by providing their input, ideas, and encouragement.

The Aesculapian Society recognizes that students have a variety of wellness needs and this gym primarily supports students’ physical wellness. We look forward to collaborating with student body and the UGME to expand upon, and create initiatives that support other aspects of student wellbeing. We look forward to seeing the lasting impact that this project will have on Queen’s medical students and residents for years to come. The Aesculapian Society encourages students and residents to provide feedback on how the gym can be improved to better serve our community’s needs.

Danny Jomaa, President

Rae Woodhouse, Past-President

Aesculapian Society 2019-2020

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An election no one won. Is it finally time for electoral reform?

We’ve recently come through a federal election where there appear to have been very few winners.

Certainly not the Liberal party, who saw their seats in the House reduced and must now attempt to govern with no majority and little support from the three prairie provinces.

Certainly not the Conservatives who failed to capitalize on what many saw as a golden opportunity to unseat the incumbent government.

Certainly not the NDP who saw their number of seats reduced drastically despite having a charismatic and articulate leader.

Certainly not the fledgling People’s Party of Canada, who won no seats, not even the one contested by their leader.

Probably not the Green party, although they did gain a seat outside British Columbia.

In fact, the only party that could be assessed as having emerged with a positive result is the Bloc Quebecois, whose main goal is to protect the interests of a single cultural group within a single province, even if it means breaking up the country.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this election is the voter turnout or, perhaps more accurately stated, non-turnout. Fully 34% (that’s one in three!) of eligible Canadian voters decided to take a pass on this election. This is not exactly new. Voter turnout in the 43 Canadian federal elections that have been held since confederation has averaged 70.3%, ranging from highs of 79% in the early 1960s to a low of 58.8% in 2008. In that light, our current results might not seem too disappointing, if not that they appear to be part of a concerning downward trend which seemed to begin in the late 1980s.

And so, we must ask, what is it that keeps folks from exercising their right to influence our country’s government in the only way that will be available to most of them? It’s certainly not any lack of significant contemporary issues or a sense of satisfaction with the conduct of our current government. It’s certainly not that voting isn’t as easy as possible, including widespread availability of advanced polls. So what is it?

That very question was the subject of a 1989 Royal Commission on Electoral Reform. The authors identified a number of factors that prevent people from voting. Many are very practical, logistic issues such as illness, being away from home at the time, or just being too busy. However, a leading cause that emerged was simply labeled simply as “wasn’t interested”.  A leading author of the document, Jon H. Pammett, described what he termed “administrative disenfranchisement”, meaning that the procedures involved in the voting process inhibit participation.

The results of the recent election highlight another cause of voter discontent that has been the focus of increasing attention and political lobbying over the past few years. Our parliamentary, party-based system combined with the marked variations in population density that exist in our country gives rise to a disturbing disconnect between the popular vote and final outcome.

For example, the Liberal party’s 33.1% of the popular vote translated into 46.4% (157) of the seats in the House of Commons. The Conservative party, which actually received a higher percentage of the popular vote (34.4%), won 26 fewer seats (121 or 35.8% of the available seats). The NDP’s 15.9% of the vote, in a proportional sense, should have earned them 54 seats, but they’ll go into the next parliament with only 24 seats, whereas the Bloc Quebecois’ 7.7% of the vote yielded 32 seats in voter rich Quebec. Perhaps the most egregious injustice relates to the Green Party. In an evenly distributed system their 6.5% share would translate into 22 seats, rather than the 3 seats they won. Even the fledgling People’s Party, which won no seats at all, can cry foul given that their 1.6% of the voting share would proportionately correspond to 5 seats.

Regardless of your political affiliation or preferences, it’s easy to understand why so many people are finding this disturbing, and why voters, particularly those is less populated parts of the country, are left feeling frustrated, discouraged and the sense that their individual votes are devalued or even meaningless. Adding to all this electoral confusion is the persisting problem that, in a parliamentary system, the voters don’t directly elect the highest political office in the country. This brings, with every election, the perennial and vexing conundrum of whether to vote for the local candidate on the basis of their personal capabilities, or the party they represent. In a democratic society, should voters be forced to make that choice? Might that be contributing to their frustration and apathy?

Changing such a deeply established process will, of course, not be easy. It would require determined action from the very politicians who have benefited from the status quo. Nonetheless, it seems that the time has come for at least an open debate on the issue. Those with the courage to take this on might be worth voting for!

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Plastic Snow? It’s official…we’ve gone too far. It’s time to act.

Meet my grand-nephew, Tristan. He’s been visiting from Nova Scotia with his parents. He’s 7 months old and, this past week, is starting to crawl and had his first haircut. He’s also the inspiration for this week’s blog. But more about him later…

We’ve grown accustomed to reading reports of grave environmental threats. For most of us, there is as yet little direct impact and we’re able to regard these concerns in the abstract. With time and repetition, we develop something akin to resigned indifference, participating in recycling efforts with reluctant acquiesce. 

I’ve recently come across some information that should cause us all to pause, consider what’s happening to our environment and our own, personal culpability.

In a 2017 article appearing in Science Advances (Geyer, Jambeck, Law, Sci. Adv. 2017; 3: e1700782), researchers from three American universities and institutions with expertise in environmental issues reported on the “Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made.” Their conclusions are, to say the least, rather sobering. To summarize:

  • 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been manufactured to date
  • Of that, 6.3 billion metric tons remain as plastic waste accumulated in landfills.
  • Only 9% has been recycled, 12% incinerated
  • If current trends continue, it’s projected that 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will find its way either into landfills or the natural environment by 2050.

The projections they have developed are rather frightening as portrayed in this graph from their paper:

Plastic products are, of course, designed to be durable. Basically, they don’t go away, and this article makes it clear that our current recycling efforts aren’t nearly adequate.

To put this into more comprehensible terms, researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology have recently estimated that 22 million pounds of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes every year. Our own Lake Ontario, which we Kingstonians walk or drive by every day, receives the equivalent of 28 Olympic size swimming pools of plastic bottles each year, and they don’t go away.

(https://phys.org/news/2016-12-metric-tons-plasticgreat-lakes.html)

If that’s not enough to get our attention, consider work recently published by Dr. Melanie Bergmann and her colleagues at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, also in Science Advances (Bergmann et al, Sci. Adv. 2019; 5: eaax1157).  

They point out that plastics don’t dissolve harmlessly into the environment, but under a number of physical stresses (mechanical abrasion provided by waves, for example, or temperature fluctuations) they can be broken into much smaller particles, termed microplastic, measuring less than 5mm. It’s already been well established that these can be found not only near large urban centres, but also in northerly ocean seabeds and coastal sediment. What hasn’t been clear is how they get there. It’s been postulated that microplastics have the capacity to be carried into the atmosphere and find their way to points very remote from their original dumping grounds. The capacity to become airborne not only explains this wide distribution, but potentially threatens human and animal exposure through inhalation.

To test this possibility, they set out to look for microplastics associated with snow because, in the words of the authors “snow is a scavenger for diverse impurities, and acts as a filter on the ground by dry deposition”.  Using techniques far beyond my understanding, they measured levels of various microplastics in snow samples gathered from ice floes and islands in the Arctic, and compared with samples from urban centres in northern Europe and from the Alps.

They found plastic microparticles in snow gathered from all sites. Although there was much more from the cities, there were detectable levels in the snow scooped up from ice floes drifting in the Fram Strait and on Svalbard Island in the far north, far from any population centre, in quantities they described as “substantial for a secluded location”.

They conclude that snow has the ability to bind these airborne particles and carry them back to earth, a process they term “scavenging”. They conjecture that this process can allow for microparticles to find their way into water supplies and food chains. They even recommend that large northern cities give thought to where they deposit collected snow in the winter, to avoid contamination of water sources.

If we needed any further convincing about the need to curb use of plastics, I think it’s now available. Particles from the bottles or straws that we use to conveniently transport beverages to quench our thirst are finding their ways to the most remote, unpopulated regions of our planet, previously considered pristine. The ice and snow, always symbols of purity, are now tainted. Children who will soon be running outdoors to frolic in the first winter snowfall may be putting themselves at risk.

Getting back to young Tristan, what sort of world are we shaping for he and his peers? What can we do, given the virtually ubiquitous presence of plastics in our society? Personal action, to be sure. We should make all efforts to minimize our own usage and maximize recycling efforts. But also political awareness, particularly in this election year. No political leader or party that fails to understand the true impact of environmental contamination is worthy of our support. We should expect well-articulated platforms that address both local and international approaches. We have a responsibility to be vigilant, not only for ourselves, but also for those not yet able to speak for themselves but have so much at stake. 

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Welcoming Meds 2023

As the days get shorter and leaves begin to fall we reluctantly acknowledge that summer is giving way to autumn. In any university community another sure sign is the return of students, heralding the beginning of another academic cycle. At Queen’s School of Medicine, this past week marked the 165th time a group of young people arrived to begin their careers.

Photo by Garrett Elliot

This year’s group consists of 108 students, drawn from an applicant pool of over 5500. They come all regions of our country and backgrounds. One hundred and eight individual paths leading to a common goal that they will now share for the next four years. Eighty-four of them have completed undergraduate degrees, 30 Masters degrees, and five PhDs

They hail from no fewer than 53 communities spanning the breadth and width of Canada. The universities they have attended and degree programs are listed below:

   
   

 An academically diverse and very qualified group, to be sure.  Last week, they undertook a variety of orientation activities organized by both faculty and their upper year colleagues. 

On their first day, They were welcomed by Dr. Richard Reznick who challenged them to be restless in the pursuit of their goals and the betterment of our patients and society.

They were called upon to demonstrate commitment to their studies, their profession and their future patients.  They were assured that they will have a voice within our school and be treated with the same respect they are expected to provide each other, their faculty and all patients and volunteers they encounter through their medical school careers.  They were welcomed by Mr. Danny Jomma, Asesculapian Society President, who spoke on behalf of their upper year colleagues, and Dr. Rachel Rooney provided them an introduction to fundamental concepts of medical professionalism. 

Over the course of the week, they met curricular leaders, including Drs. Andrea Guerin, Lindsey Patterson and Laura Milne.  They were also introduced to Dr. Renee Fitzpatrick (Director of Student Affairs) and our excellent learner support team, including Drs. Martin Ten Hove, Jason Franklin, Mike McMullen, Josh Lakoff, Erin Beattie, Lauren Badalato and Susan MacDonald who oriented them to the Learner Wellness, Career Counseling and Academic Support services that will be provided throughout their years with us.  They met members of our superb administrative and educational support teams led by Jacqueline Findlay, Jennifer Saunders, Theresa Suart, Eleni Katsoulas, Amanda Consack, and first year Curricular Coordinator Jane Gordon

They attended an excellent session on inclusion and challenges within the learning environment, organized by third year student Alisha Kapur and student members of the diversity panel, supported by Drs. Mala Joneja and Renee Fitzpatrick. The presentation included dialogue from a panel of upper year students (Leah Allen, Palika Kohli, Vivesh Patel and Naveen Sivaranjan) who provided candid and very useful insights to their first year colleagues. That was followed by a thought-provoking and challenging presentation by Stephanie Simpson University Advisor on Equity and Human Rights.

Dr. Susan Moffatt organized and coordinated the very popular and much appreciated “Pearls of Wisdom” session, where fourth year students nominate and introduce faculty members who have been particularly impactful in their education, and invite them to pass on a few words of advice to the new students.  This year, Drs. Erin Beattie, Wiley Chung, Bob Connelly, Jackie Duffin, Michelle Gibson, Brigid Nee, Siddhartha Srivastava and David Walker were selected for this honour.

On Friday, the practical aspects of curriculum, expectations of conduct and promotions were explained by Drs. Michelle Gibson, Cherie Jones and Lindsey Patterson.

Their Meds 2021 upper year colleagues welcomed them with a number of formal and not-so-formal events.  These included sessions intended to promote an inclusive learning environment, as well as orientations to Queen’s and Kingston, introductions to the mentorship program, and a variety of evening social events which, judging by appearances the next morning, were much enjoyed.

For all these arrangements, skillfully coordinated, I’m very grateful to Rebecca Jozsa, our Admissions Officer and Admissions Assistant Rachel Bauder.  

I invite you to join me in welcoming these new members of our school and medical community. I leave you (and they) with the Bob Dylan lyrics that Dr. Reznick shared with the class this past week:

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young

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History of Medicine Tour of NYC

By Adam Gabara and Kelly Salman

The bus started to move, leaving the School of Medicine, and commencing our long excursion to New York City. With an upcoming Mechanisms of Disease test, stress levels were high, but the excitement of the trip overrode most of those worrisome feelings. After all, this was the annual History of Medicine trip to a city that some of us, including myself, will be seeing for the first time.

Driving over the Jersey bridge, seeing Manhattan in all of its concrete jungle glory, all I could think about was all the historical events that took place within this massive cityscape. It may have been my public health background coming out, but I imagined the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island to be screened and processed, infectious disease spreading rampant through the crowded streets and apartments, and rats carrying disease to food establishments. Nonetheless, this trip was going to provide a great learning opportunity not possible in the lecture halls back in Kingston.

Even though we arrived late at night, we all split up to explore the city. Some went to celebrate a classmate’s birthday, while others explored the famous Times Square, and enjoyed a late-night meal before heading back to the hotel. For some, it may be easy to forget the history engrained in a city as modern and metropolitan as NYC. Times Square has been a central hub for many decades and known for major landmarks such as the Broadway Theatre, and we tried to see as much as we could in the short time we had.

The next morning, after a nice breakfast at a small Lime stone café and a trek through Central park, the whole group rejoined at the docks to make our way around the Statue of Liberty and towards Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. While on Ellis Island, we were able to explore the National Immigration Museum and learn of the courageous, and sometimes tragic, stories of immigrants from all over the world coming to America to start a better life.

Our guided tour of the abandoned immigration hospital was actually an enlightening reminder of   how far medicine has come. It also demonstrated how differently physicians approached immigrant health back then, keeping them segregated from the populace of New York on the basis of more than just symptoms of severe illness. Many of these immigrants came from countries in Europe, such as England, Ireland, and Germany, among others. This immigration hospital has been utilized for expectant mothers to give birth, for mental health screening, and for the treatment and quarantining of infectious diseases. The mental health screening, we learned, was based on what would now be considered archaic classifications of mental illness (idiocy, imbecile, moron, and feeble-minded). Immigrants were screened with math questions, and assessed further for behaviour and more questioning.

Saturday night was a huge bonding experience between the first and second years, as many of us attended an improv comedy act. We were able to mingle at the nearby bar, with special attention from the owner/bar tender, and to unwind after such a busy day. After the comedy, we all regrouped at a fancy top floor cocktail lounge overlooking Times Square. From here, we were able to take in the city and reflect not only on the history we learned so far, but the relationships being formed this weekend, and how important it is to take wellness break. Something we often forget in our busy lives with constant assignments, tests, research, and extra-curriculars (I was worrying about landing all the movements and vocals to Living on a Prayer for the QMed A Capella group).

The next day, we were able to see both the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Academy of Medicine. The museum, coincidentally, was displaying their main exhibit titled Germ City, a huge public health historical piece. This exhibit covered the history of various outbreaks in the city of New York and taught some of the basic science behind infectious diseases and their spread. At the academy, we were taken through a picturesque journey through various illustrated medical teaching texts including topics such as dermatology and obstetrics. It was surreal, looking at guides that medical learners would have been using many centuries ago to visualize pathologies and procedures that we ourselves will be learning on our laptops and medical texts in the year(s) to come.

And just like that, our journey was ending. We made our way back to the hotel for the long trek back home. This experience gave me much to think about, from all the medical tragedies and triumphs that occurred here, to seeing the profound impact medicine has had over hundreds of years, and how various modalities for medical instruction have changed over time. I will always think fondly of my first experience in New York, and I am reminded how lucky we are as medical students to have these opportunities to enhance our medical journey. Even on the ride back, whilst studying for the MOD midterm amongst my studious or sleeping colleagues, I realized we need to enjoy journey of medical schooland little things along the way. Like the unique experience of sitting next to a classical piano in a McDonald’s- now that’s something that will stick with me forever.

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Spring UGME retreat May 28

The spring UG Education retreat is coming up on May 28 at the Donald Gordon Conference Centre.

Designed primarily for course directors, unit leads, intrinsic role leads and others in educational leadership roles in our Undergraduate Medical Education program, this annual day-long event provides opportunities for information sharing and faculty development in planning for the next academic year.

The morning agenda includes an update from Associate Dean Anthony Sanfilippo as well as sessions on the progress test and quality assurance, accreditation & program evaluation. There will also be brief updates from the Librarian team at Bracken Library about new resources, and from the course team about the Human Structure & Function curriculum renewal.

The afternoon will begin with our guest speaker, Melissa Forgie, MD, FRCPC, MSc, Vice dean, UGME, University of Ottawa. She will speak on Embracing Diversity in Medical Education

Break out sessions will follow, including a working session for pre-clerkship course directors to build or revise assessment plans for next year and a clerkship course directors’ session on continued EPA/CBME implementation.

If you contribute to the Queen’s UGME program, please join us for all or part of the day. To register, use this link:  https://queensfhs.wufoo.com/forms/ugme-may-28-retreat-registration/

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Inaugural FHS Interprofessional Symposium on Leadership

Interprofessional education is a priority in undergraduate medicine, as it is in our fellow health professions programs in the Faculty of Health Sciences in the School of Nursing and School of Rehabilitation Therapy.

Early this month (or last month, if you’re reading this after Tuesday), we brought together over 300 students from nursing (fourth-year undergraduates), medicine (second-year undergraduate program), occupational therapy (first-year master’s) and physiotherapy (first-year master’s) at the Leon’s Centre for a one-day symposium with a particular focus on leadership.

A student responds to a case question on behalf of his table team. Students from the four participating programs were assigned to an interprofessional table group for the day.

A key challenge in creating interprofessional learning opportunities is coordinating time, space, and learning objectives of independent programs with different classroom and clinical schedules. A committee of representatives from four programs, including student representatives, tackled this challenge earlier this year, working collaboratively to create the program and learning activities for the symposium. The day included plenary speakers, interactive case studies, and a bit of fun along the way.


Plenary speaker Kim Smith

Our plenary speakers included Dr. David Walker, former FHS dean; Lori Proulx Professional Practice Leader -Nursing and Kim Smith Professional Practice Leader Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy from Kingston Health Sciences Centre; and Duncan Sinclair, former vice-principal of Health Sciences

Diving into a case assignment.

Students were seated in interprofessional table groups to engage in discussions around cases and use IP tools for decision making.

Plenary speaker David Walker

We’ve taken lessons learned from organizing this event as well as formal and information feedback from students and other participants to carry forward to the next iteration of the symposium.

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Failure to Thrive in Medical School Syndrome: Signs, Symptoms and Diagnostic Approach

“Failure to Thrive” is a term well-established in the world of clinical medicine. In the pediatric context, it refers to a child who is failing to achieve anticipated developmental milestones. In the adult world, it’s more informally used to describe someone who is simply not doing well in their current circumstances, be it in hospital or in their community setting. Examples would be an elderly patient at home who is slowly declining and losing ability for independent living, or a hospital in-patient who is not improving despite what seems to be appropriate treatment.

The concept, I’ve come to appreciate, can also be usefully applied in the context of medical education. Failure to Thrive in Medical School Syndrome (FTMSS), can be engaged as we would any clinical condition, with characteristic signs and symptoms.

There are six key cardinal signs or manifestations of FTMSS. These include:

  1. Poor academic performance.
  2. Absenteeism, or habitual lateness for scheduled events.
  3. Habitual failure to meet established deadlines for submission of academic reports or administrative requirements.
  4. Inter-personal conflicts with peers, administrative staff or faculty.
  5. Poor or unprofessional behaviour in the academic or clinical setting.
  6. Lack of attention to surroundings, or personal appearance.

Symptoms of the FTMSS sufferer might include lethargy, fragile confidence, diminished sense of self-worth, agitation, defensiveness, anxiety.

As with the approach to any medical syndrome, the objective is not simply to make a diagnosis, but to establish the underlying cause. Understanding the mechanism by which this syndrome develops is essential to helping the sufferer deal with the affliction, establishing appropriate treatment, and hopefully starting down the road to cure.

All the manifestations of FTMSS have the common feature of not being attributable to any intrinsic limitation on the part of the afflicted individual. Having come through the intensely competitive medical school admission process, it seems reasonable to assume that every medical student is fundamentally capable of performing academically, being on time, meeting deadlines, relating reasonably well to others, attending to their personal appearance and behaving professionally. Failure to do any of these things can therefore can reasonably be attributed to some external cause.

And so, what are the root causes of FTTMS? At this point, a disclaimer seems appropriate. In the absence of any tested and proven pathophysiological mechanism for the condition, I provide postulates based on many years of observation of afflicted individuals, perhaps as a basis for clinical management and hypotheses for future clinical trials. That being said, and in no particular order, here goes:

  1. Failure to adjust to medical education. The medical school curriculum, learning methods and, importantly, the use of assessment in medical school can vary considerably from many other undergraduate programs. Fundamentally, the goals of education are no longer strictly about the aspirations of the learner, but rather geared to preparation to meet the needs of future patients. This change in focus can be somewhat unsettling for some. Moreover, the curriculum can be intense and demanding. Educational methods include much small-group and collaborative activities, as well as required independent learning. Assessments can be frequent and geared not towards short term retention and determining comparisons with other learners, but in assessing individual achievement with respect to learning objectives. In medical school, students therefore find themselves confronted with a learning environment very different than that which they’ve experienced previously. They are also asked to established individual rather than comparative goals of achievement. All this adjustment can be difficult for the student who is accustomed to learning situations which are individual, easily self-controlled and targeted to parameters of external validation.
  2. Lack of motivation for a career in Medicine. For many students, the decision to engage the medical school application process begins at a very early age. The process can be all-consuming and require the applicant to forgo many opportunities and experiences usually undertaken in childhood and adolescence in order to undertake educational programs and volunteer activities that they, and perhaps their parents, feel relevant to their application. The decision to pursue a career in medicine can therefore prevent a young person from engaging valuable developmental experiences or from considering other interests and potential career options. Others may enter medical school with an incomplete understanding of a medical career. As they understand more clearly what doctors actually do and what is expected of them, they may begin to realize the career is not for them. Medical education and, more importantly, a career in medicine, are both rewarding and demanding. Both require deep commitment.
  3. Unresolved personal issues. Medical students, like all young people, experience a variety of personal stresses and adversities. There can be a reluctance to recognize or to admit to the full impact of such stresses and to seek help. There can be a concern that admitting that one is feeling challenged or overcome by such circumstances might be seen as signs of internal weakness or unsuitability for their chosen career. There can also be a tendency to defer feelings of loss, disappointment or grief. Over time such unresolved stresses can mount and express themselves in negative ways which may lead to the various manifestations of FTTMS.
  4. Medical students can become ill or simply run down. Many medical conditions can be gradual, subtle and insidious. Accumulated fatigue due to lack of attention to simple things like regular sleep habits, nutrition and fitness can gradually mount and imperceptibly affect performance. Not unlike practising physicians, medical students can have a remarkable ability to ignore features of illness and fatigue in themselves which they would very quickly recognize in others.
  5. Mental illness. Medical students, like all young people, could suffer from chronic mental illness or develop such conditions after entering medical school. These can be very difficult to recognize in oneself and there may be stigma associated with such conditions that inhibit affected individuals from recognizing their full significance or in seeking help.

The objective of any faculty advisor or mentor engaging the FTMSS sufferer, of course, is to help the afflicted student understand the problem and therefore engage effective therapies. The clinical approach for students exhibiting signs of FTTMS, ultimately, is not unlike that for other conditions that have behavioural manifestations. It begins with understanding and acceptance that the troublesome behaviour likely has an underlying precipitant that can be defined and therefore managed.

Diagnosis requires a thorough history focused on the potential causes listed above, and features that may help identify the underlying, culprit problem. Having identified a potential underlying mechanism, counseling is required to help the students themselves understand cause and effects. Together, management can be engaged.

What happens when none of the potential mechanisms seems to fit, and we come up with an idiopathic etiology? In my experience, this is very rare, but obviously troubling. Are we simply dealing with a poor “fit” for medicine? In such cases, we should provide compassionate support and oversight – what some clinical colleagues would term “watchful waiting”. Clarity usually emerges with time and, with it, the optimal approach becomes obvious to all.

And so, the process for assessing a medical education problem bears remarkable similarity to the process we teach and use for any clinical problem. Once again, there’s a striking parallel between patient care and medical education. Doctors instinctively engage their students as they do their patients. Without judgement, but rather thoughtful contemplation of how observed manifestations reveal underlying mechanistic causes, leading to understanding and, with it, effective intervention.

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Med Students’ activities extend beyond the classroom

It’s that time of the new year when the winter doldrums can set it – weather and routine can weigh everyone down. Along with that, there’s that old cliché about “all work and no play”. There’s little risk of our medical students being thought of as anything approaching dull and they provide great ideas for how to beat the winter blahs. In addition to their full class and study load, they make time for a wide variety of extra-curricular activities for fun, recreation and community involvement.

Aesculapian Society President Rae Woodhouse recently shared some highlights of these endeavours:

In early January, 68 pre-clerks attended the annual MedGames in Montreal and placed 2nd of everyone outside of Quebec. Sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS), MedGames brings together medical students from across the country for a friendly sports competition and network building.

Thirty-one second year students competed in BEWICS.  This is the annual Queen’s Intramural sports competition which features a variety of self-proclaimed “quirky” sports such as water volleyball and rugby basketball. The QMed team placed third overall for competitiveness and spirit.

The Class of 2021 Class Project Committee hosted Queens’ first ever Scholars At Risk Talk (see more on this here).

Pre-clerk students recently competed in the Ottawa’s Winterlude Ice Dragon Boat competition and about 30 went on the annual ski trip to Mont-Tremblant two weekends ago.

And if ice dragon boating and skiing weren’t enough of a challenge, about 45 students from across the four years spent a couple of hours recently learning the basics of curling from a fourth year student. This is the fourth time for this event!

For Wellness month, the Wellness committee put together a month of activities with each week having a theme: social, physical, mental and nutritional wellness. During physical wellness week, 40 pre-clerks did a Crossfit class and 20 did a spin class taught by the AS Wellness Officer.

The 2nd annual Jacalyn Duffin Health and Humanities conference happened recently and was very well received.

This past weekend, 20 students went to NYC to learn about the history of medicine, led by Dr. Jenna Healey (Hannah History of Medicine Chair) and the What Happened In Medicine Historical Society. 

And, over 100 mentorship group members attend trivia at the Grad Club. (Take note of that, it could be a future trivia question!)

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