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An interview with new CMA president Dr. Anna Reid

Jesse Mellott | Fulcrum Staff

Photo courtesy of the Canadian Medical Association

THE CANADIAN MEDICAL Association (CMA) has elected a new president, Dr. Anna Reid, who also happens to be a University of Ottawa alum. The Fulcrum was fortunate to be able to sit down and talk with her.

The Fulcrum: What do you hope to accomplish as the new president of the Canadian Medical Association?

Dr. Anna Reid: Over the last several years, the [Canadian] Medical Association has been involved in what they call their “health-care transformation initiative,” and what we are doing is proposing a number of ways that the health-care system needs to be radically changed so that it functions better. We know that there is no more money coming for the system, so we have to get smarter in how we use the money we have, and a lot of that requires redesigning the system so that there are better efficiencies and accountability measures, and that we actually improve access to such things as preventive care and primary care. One of the big pushes of the Canadian Medical Association this year is to look at what we call the social determinates of health or health equity, and that’s advocating for improving things such as housing, education, and healthy nutrition. If we affect those social determinates, people will remain healthy, and it will save money for the system. My big push this year is to see if we can get governments at all levels to start talking about social determinates.

A lot of our readers would be interested in the fact that you were educated here at the University of Ottawa; you did your medical degree here. What do you think about this university as a place to learn?

Yes I did. I graduated in ’86 from the University of Ottawa. Our medical education was really good. It was a good mix of classroom work and clinical work. It was at the time that they were starting to change medical education so that you started to do more clinical work earlier on in the course of your studies, rather than doing a lot of classroom work for a few years and then suddenly moving over to doing clinical hospital work. I was sort of at that early period where they were starting to introduce the clinical stuff earlier, and was very new in the process. It was great. I was in the second class that went through the new medical school out at the Alta Vista campus. It had just opened up the year before.

You’ve worked extensively in the Northwest Territories; how does that differ from B.C. where you did your residency?

I worked in rural B.C., a town called Nelson. We had a lot of issues down in Nelson, with respect to difficulty accessing services. We were a long way away from major centres, and it was difficult transporting patients large distances to anywhere where they could get a higher level of care.

In the area where I worked there was no Aboriginal population, but where I worked in the Northwest Territories, my workload was probably 75 per cent Aboriginal people. I worked in the emergency room in Yellowknife. I saw quite a different patient population, quite a large homeless population, people who are addicts, mental health patients… alcoholism was the main problem. So that really changes who comes to the emergency department; a lot of them were younger people, as opposed to when I worked down south—I was looking after a large number of elderly people with cardiac issues and that sort of thing. It’s quite a different mix of stuff that I’ve seen in the emergency room up north.

The Northwest Territories has very few roads; the road ends in Yellowknife and we serviced 33 communities that are fly-in communities. So a lot of my work involved transporting patients long distances away to our hospital for care.

How do you hope to solve the inequalities you talked about in your inaugural address?

No matter where you live in the country, whatever your racial background or your ethnic background is, I think you need to have a reasonable access to proper health care. It is not going to be the same in Toronto, as it is in Moosonee—it can’t be. You still have to have what I would call equitable access to entering the system in a way that respects where you live, and we know that is not the case right now. We have a lot of people such as homeless people that really don’t have a way to access the system; they don’t really have a proper way to access primary care. One of the things that the Canadian Medical Association is doing is developing toolkits for physicians to look at how they are going to help advocate for individual patients on these issues of social determinates and inequity. A lot of the work we are doing is lobbying at various government levels, provincial and federal, to actually have them take a look at how they redistribute their resources, to make sure that some of these marginalized remote populations do have increased access. One of the ways that we can make health-care access more equitable in the north and in remote areas is through improved use of technology, electronic medical records, and video technology, where we have videos in nursing stations where there is not a doctor there, but the doctor is at the other end helping the nurse manage the patient over a video. That would be an example of how to have a more equitable health care. A lot of these innovative technologies can help in how we connect with patients in a more virtual way, so I think there is going to be quite a bit of push on that.

Do you have any advice for anyone who is in medical school right now, particularly at the University of Ottawa?

If you’re interested in medicine, it’s a fantastic career—it can let you do a million different things. It’s exciting, it’s always evolving, and it’s very hard work. So whatever you choose to do in medicine, you will be working hard, but it is incredibly rewarding. I would say go for it, and try to get as broad an education as you can. Don’t focus in on anything too early. I know it’s hard for people in medical school; they’re having to choose their careers earlier than I did when I went through… but I really urge anyone interested in it to go for it, it’s a fantastic career. I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding you can do.

Any final thoughts?

I think that every Canadian needs to get concerned about our health-care system. I think that every Canadian needs to play a part in asking questions, and coming up with potential solutions. [As] physicians, we can’t do it on our own. We need input from patients on what they want from the system. We have done a lot of work reaching out through town halls throughout the country to patient and multi-patient groups to get their input. But I think that is a whole-society issue that we can’t solve on our own. We have our own ideas how things should go… I would urge every Canadian, every student, to get interested in the issues, to get involved in the dialogue, to put their money where their mouth is when they come and vote, to use their democratic wisdom to get the changes that they want to have through. I think that is how things work in this country and how we get involved and try [to] influence policy.