Dr. Cindy Forbes, President of the Canadian Medical Association, on medical professionalism and common challenges between Canada and the UK. Dr Forbes attended our most recent Medical professionalism matters event on ‘the doctor’s dilemma’.

Several weeks ago, my colleagues at the Canadian Medical Association came across the great work the General Medical Council has begun in an effort to address the structural and cultural challenges associated with medical professionalism. It caught our attention for several reasons – the practical, pragmatic approach to engage registered doctors, the consistency in terms of priority themes, and perhaps most notably, the strategic priority the GMC has placed on issues of professionalism.

"Respect the determinants of health"- a Canadian Medical Association member on the characteristics they associate with medical professionalism
“Respect the determinants of health”- a Canadian Medical Association member on the characteristics they associate with medical professionalism

Medical professionalism- a strategic priority

In 2015, the CMA launched a new strategic plan [PDF]. This plan, closely followed the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer, and a significant internal realignment of the organization. Medical professionalism – specifically, creating a progressive vision for medical professionalism in Canada, is now one of three strategic priorities for our Association. The CMA has a voluntary membership of more than 80,000 physicians across the country. Unlike the GMC, our focus is not regulation, but rather policy development and advocacy on behalf of the physicians of Canada.

Although there are some obvious differences in our health care systems, physicians in the UK and Canada share many common challenges. It seems that we agree that there has likely never been a more challenging time to be a physician and the reasons for this are many. The changes that affect health and health care are significant – societal values, public expectations, access to information, communication, technology, scientific advancements, climate, and this list is not exhaustive. Yet when we talk about medical professionalism, we can always refer to the fundamental tenets of medicine captured in our Code of Ethics that haven’t really changed and are still relevant.

Doing what we know is right all of the time

As I reflect on what I heard at your event “The Doctor’s dilemma” – it is the desire to address a question that was raised and discussed by your panellists in Birmingham – What is it that prevents physicians and medical students from doing what they know is right all of the time? What are the system issues that prevent it, what are the human behaviours that pressure us to act differently and more importantly – how do we overcome these issues?

These – and other issues relating to accountability for quality care, enabling structures to support inter-professional collaboration and understanding best practice in patient centred care, will frame the focus for a member engagement strategy the CMA is embarking on in 2016. Much like the GMC, understanding these issues from the perspective of our members, and how they perceived the role of the physician in a rapidly evolving healthcare environment will help us to collaboratively develop an action plan that resonates with the profession.

At the CMA General Council in August, and in an effort to begin a dialogue with members on the topic of professionalism, we engaged several dozen physician leaders to participate in a photo campaign to share with their peers what characteristics or attributes they associated with medical professionalism. You may have seen some of the photos shared via social media, in particular using the hashtag #gooddoctors.

A Canadian Medical Association member on the characteristics they associate with medical professionalism
‘Compassion- self and others’

As the months progress, and as the CMA begins to more intensively engage Canadian physicians, we look forward to sharing the results of our work with our colleagues in the UK and beyond. At the same time, we will most certainly be tracking your progress and the thought leadership which evolves from your consultations as well.

In conclusion, the value CMA derived from our visit to Birmingham, and subsequently, the London GMC offices was tremendous. The honesty and candour of the physicians attending your event was refreshing and the commitment of GMC staff to addressing issues of such foundational significance to medicine was inspiring. A few pearls Emily and I will take home with us include – “be kind – no exceptions”, ” make care of your patients your central concern”, and “moral development is a continual process”.

We look forward to crossing paths again,
C_Forbes photo

Dr. Cindy Forbes, President of the Canadian Medical Association, has been a practicing family physician for over 28 years.




Our final Medical professionalism matters event of 2015 on ‘the compassionate doctor’ will be held in Cardiff on Thursday 19 November. Register your interest here. ‘The compassionate doctor’ will explore maintaining empathetic relations with patients and the howe we can recruit for the values of medicine.

You can take our survey on ‘the doctor’s dilemma’, or catch up with conversation online via our Storify of the event

Join the conversation using #gooddoctors or via the LinkedIn group


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