The CMA Presidential Election: What’s that to me?

Sharon Yeung is a MD/MSc student at Queen’s University


I’ll be the first to admit: I’ve never been one for politics.

The garish lawn signs of electoral campaigns, the predatory advertisements and the shiny, charismatic politicians, bred in me a deep political apathy at an early age. It was an apathy fueled by a lack of understanding of how these matters were relevant to my daily life – and for the most part, my political apathy was left unchallenged.

I suspect my experiences are not unlike those of my peers in my generation. After all, weren’t we all once taught that politics is a sacred taboo? The kind you should never talk about at dinner, second only to religion. As it turns out, it’s also the kind you don’t talk about in polished Medical School Classrooms.

The apolitical culture of medical school is, however, not inconsequential. Of direct, temporal relevance right now is the CMA Presidential Election, which has garnered minimal interest from trainees, at least within my social circle. My peers have expressed to me that the election feels irrelevant – just another puzzle piece amidst picking clerkship streams and figuring out CaRMS and trying to remember to pick up fresh milk from the grocery store. I can appreciate that – I’m barely getting by myself.

In my reflections on the matter, however, I have come to recognize that our participation in the upcoming election is of exceeding importance. The CMA Presidential Election needs the voices of students. And we, as students, certainly depend on the CMA more than we think.

We have a personal, vested interest in the CMA, regardless of whether or not we acknowledge it. The CMA protects our profession’s interests, at every stage of training; it provides resources on financing our education and personal insurance plans, through to transitioning to residency, to managing a future practice, to providing professional development. Beyond our careers, the CMA works to prepare our paths for retirement; in fact, the popular Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) that are now popularly used were a product of CMA lobby efforts in the 1950s, emerging on account of physicians’ uncertain retirement plans. We often don’t think twice about the personal benefits we have reaped from the CMA, because they are intrinsic to our views of what is available to us: from our RxDx mobile apps, to our discounted GoodLife memberships, to the free backpack we got when we started medical school, we simply take many of these things for granted.

Beyond the career planning, the financial help, and the free stuff, the CMA also plays a more insidious role as powerful agent underlying the culture of medicine. This year, every presidential candidate has brought forth the issues of unmatched medical graduates, student debt, and mental wellness in training, issues that are unquestionably relevant to us. The recognition of these issues by the CMA has brought them into a limelight that suddenly makes them even more urgent – matters suitable and necessary to be openly discussed and addressed.

In the same way that the CMA is indistinguishably ingrained in our experiences of training and working, it is also woven into broader sociopolitical fabric in deep-seated ways. The CMA is an organization merely 100 days younger than Canadian confederation itself, and has been pivotal in shaping our publicly-funded, universal health care system that has become a point of national pride. The CMA continues to aid in pushing health care issues into social consciousness, be that seniors’ care, end-of-life care, access to specialty care, or the impact of social determinants of health. The CMA is active in initiatives we have come to know well – the Choosing Wisely campaign, the plan for Pharmacare, and wait time reduction, to name a few. Unbeknownst to many of us, the CMA is actually a powerful force behind what health care issues get broader social and political attention and, by extension, what the health of Canadians, including that of our families, friends, and patients, will look like.

We, as students, often profess to be committed to the future of health care. We are excited by the prospects of innovative technology, personalized medicine, and systems reform. We hope to make health care socially accountable, and to deliver patient-centred, humanistic care that renounces the traditional paternalism of health care’s past.

We also hope to improve the culture and the identity of medicine. We hope to take better care of our colleagues and of ourselves – we hope to normalize conversations about mental health, medical mistakes, and suicide. We hope to reassert physician voices in the social sphere.

Fundamentally, the visions that we have for medicine and health care cannot be divorced from the political sphere. German physician Rudolf Virchow has been famously quoted (and mis-quoted) on his belief in this inseparability of medicine and politics: “Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing more than medicine on a grand scale.” We are medically-trained professionals, but the changes that we wish to see are not exclusively medical in scope - they are political. And at interface of medicine and politics is an organizational body largely involved in translating our insight into political action on a federal level: the CMA.

If we hope to drive change in medicine, as we have committed to doing the first day we stepped foot into medical school, we also need to be committed to directing the future of an organization that acts as a collective voice and social stronghold on these matters. This is a privilege and responsibility to the public, but also to ourselves, and to one another, to be involved in an organization that is a powerful backbone of how medicine, as a profession and as a practice, operates in our country.

And again, I’ll be the first to admit: I’ve never been one for politics. But I’m one for medicine.

And as such, I’m learning to be one for politics.

Voting for the Canadian Medical Association President-Elect Nominee will take place between February 15 and March 7, 2018. All Ontario CMA members will have received an email with a unique voting PIN for online voting.

Editors' note: Sharon's disclosure is as follows -
I am involved in the CMA election as a volunteer for one of the candidate’s campaign team. The ideas contained in this article are solely my own and have not been developed, reviewed or endorsed by CMA in any capacity.