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The Importance of Diversity

October 16, 2017

One of the things that attracted me to medicine was the variety of opportunities within the medical field. Consider the entry-level medical student as a pluripotent stem cell with virtually unlimited choices for future development. You can choose to be a generalist or a specialist, a clinician or an academic, a researcher, an administrator, or even a medical politician. You can practice rural or urban, at home or abroad, and you can generally always work somewhere. And while you may not end up practicing what you thought, or where you thought, the truth is when you’re a doctor somebody somewhere always needs your skills. No matter how far we advance medicine, there will always be patients.

DiversityToday, medicine remains an attractive field to many, which generates a growing diversity in our ranks. Historically the profession was the purview of educated white males, and only recently have we seen a significant increase in the number of women and a better representation of ethnic diversity – though First Nations physicians still face particular barriers. With Doctors of BC’s change in governance structure, it’s interesting to consider how the Association is managing to incorporate this broad spectrum of diversity into our new Representative Assembly (RA) and Board of Directors. We structured the RA membership to be both balanced and diverse, and as I looked around the room at our first meeting I was encouraged to see a wide panoply of physicians. We do have work to do at increasing diversity on the Board. Harder to do with only nine members, and as a first step, I’m pleased we have a balanced number of GPs and specialists. Moving forward we must continue to support the involvement of our diverse profession as we nurture our future leaders. 

And given our differences, it’s not surprising that we also have a variety of political views. I continue to believe these differing opinions can strengthen the profession depending on how we approach them. What is disheartening is the tendency to frame every difference as a confrontation rather than an opportunity with which to learn and explore areas of common interest. The tax debate is one issue facing us as a profession that can be framed as a conflict or an opportunity. We can focus on different perspectives about tax reform or we can look at how we can strategically address a wide variety of the issues as a profession. Our upcoming PMA negotiations could potentially be another area where differing opinions may or may not strengthen the profession. It will depend on our level of engagement with the profession and how we prioritize key issues. We need to ensure our diversity works to our advantage.

A major underlying issue in my mind is an appreciation for each other’s strengths. When we initially head into residency, we choose the aspect of medicine that we personally find most exciting and most important – and rightfully so. The downside to that decision is the formation of a subtle attitude that our personal area of interest is the most important. By nature, physicians are competitive and there exist historical rivalries that are deeply ingrained. However all of us and all of our differences are necessary for a healthy health care system – and as we strive to wrap care around the patients of this province we must not forget this. Communication, mutual respect, and an appreciation of the big picture are key values we must consider if we wish to move forward as a united profession.

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