From her early days practising in a small rural community in Nova Scotia, family doctor Dr Sheila Findlay understood how physicians can make a positive difference in the lives of patients and colleagues, and in their communities.
“I was one of just two physicians in town,” says Dr Findlay. “In that environment, there were many paths to pursue under a broader scope of general practice at both a patient-to-physician level and within the community.”
During this time, she also saw how strong leadership and creative thinking could improve patient care and relationships, and how GPs could be influencers in their communities and within the health care system.
“My colleague had done some really innovative things,” says Dr Findlay. “She’d set up diabetes and asthma education and clinics, which were well ahead of their time. We also ran a little hospital, and in a two-doctor town, what you do completely influences the hospital environment.”
She eventually moved to Nanaimo, where she was inspired by the early days and excitement around the growing Divisions initiative.
"The idea that we could have better relationships with our health authority and other partners was key to convincing colleagues to get on board,” she says. And her own passion for giving voice to GP concerns and influencing system change to benefit her community led to her “accidental leadership” with the brand new Nanaimo Division of Family Practice, where she served in various roles, including 3.5 years as Board Chair.
Like most leaders, Dr Findlay possessed a vision for change, passion for the work, and collegial spirit. But like many women, she found balancing her leadership work with the responsibilities of managing childcare issues and running a household challenging. She highlights one of the many realities Doctors of BC is working to better understand in its pursuit of diverse representation and inclusivity at all tables.
“Leadership is wonderful, fascinating, endlessly rewarding,” she says. “But I needed more time for my family life. This is the only reason I stepped away from my leadership role.”
“I’m not sure how we can mitigate these challenges,” says Dr Findlay. “Women bring a unique voice to the table. Supporting a balance in representation will enable the profession and partners to move forward well together. I’ve worked with some extraordinary colleagues and been fortunate to see this in action.”
In addition to balancing personal and professional responsibilities, all physician leaders face a management learning curve, which can be steep, as they assume new and numerous responsibilities.
As part of Doctors of BC’s commitment to support future leaders, scholarship funding is available through programs such as the Physician Leadership and Quality Improvement Training scholarship funded by the Specialist Services and Shared Care Committees, and the GPSC’s Leadership and Management Development Program.
Dr Findlay took part in the LMDP, which made a big difference for her.
‘It was transformational,” she says. “It honed skills that were there but needed polishing. It gives you the language to explain the rationale, the skills to facilitate, the nuts and bolts to run Boards more efficiently, and the administrative leadership skills and know-how.”
Her experience mirrors that of nearly half of all physicians interviewed for a recent physician leadership review, who cited the LMDP as a critical milestone in their leadership journey.
That review also outlined the various roles physicians play as leaders, including influencer, conduit, collaborator, transformer, negotiator, advocate, manager, and fixer, highlighting the relationship-building at the heart of their work.
"To me, the roles of influencer/transformer have been the most important,” says Dr Findlay, who also serves on the SGP Board and was past Chair of the Department of Family Practice in Nanaimo. “Many people have told me it's about relationships, relationships, relationships. But until there's trust in that relationship, it's tough to move the work forward."
Physician leaders like Dr Findlay, who champion the possibilities of working together with colleagues and partners, can be role models who encourage and prompt the collective and individual leap of faith sometimes needed to move things forward. This proved the case with the Divisions initiative, where some initial scepticism about the initiative eventually receded—Today more than 90% of GPs in BC are engaged in a division.
From the perspective of her role as a physician leader, she offers some advice to women considering leadership roles.
“Be courageous; step forward. It’s daunting to dip your toe in, but the rewards are huge. You gain a different perspective on how fortunate we are to work as GPs. We have a unique window into patients’ lives that enables us to influence at the personal, professional and system level.”
Doctors of BC members can seek funding support for leadership training.
Apply for Physician Leadership and Quality Improvement Training Scholarship available through the Specialist Services Committee and Shared Care Committee as follows:
Family physicians – apply for the Leadership and Management Development Program available through the GPSC by clicking here