Message from the Registrar

March 2022
By: Dr. Karen Shaw, CPSS Registrar & CEO

Reaffirming the Value of Physician Leadership


High-functioning healthcare systems have physician leadership at the helm[1][2]. Physician leaders in Saskatchewan have been instrumental in improving our healthcare system. There should be no doubt of the value of physician leaders in our system.

The expertise of physicians and other healthcare providers has taken us through the pandemic. The predictions and planning from our physician pandemic leaders helped us avoid a more disastrous outcome. The recent struggle to contain the pandemic has been partially influenced by the rapidly changing variants being more contagious. However, the other challenge that medical pandemic planners and healthcare providers have faced is the tension between politics and science.

While the hospitals are burdened with those affected with COVID-19, the health needs of the non-COVID patients are not being addressed. While Omicron, the latest COVID-19 variant, has not led to as much requirement for intensive care as other variants, record numbers of hospital beds are being utilized, surgical waiting lists have swelled, and medical and cancer treatments continue to be delayed, yet those with decision-making authority ignore the medical advice that has worked to date to keep us safe. We now have a healthcare workforce that is tired, frustrated, feels unsupported, and is generally demoralized. I fear the unknown long-term health consequences of pandemic-related stresses on our healthcare workers and our pandemic leaders. Some healthcare workers have chosen to leave their profession or contemplate early retirement rather than face another day at work.

I learned this week that one of our physician leaders is leaving the province. Dr. Kevin Wasko has been an asset to us throughout this pandemic and prior to the pandemic with his involvement in LEAN and the development and implementation of a single health authority. His leadership was a blend of administrative and clinical talent. His patients and his colleagues in rural Saskatchewan will miss him dearly. When physicians choose to leave their Saskatchewan “roots” to practice elsewhere, this can only be viewed as a system failure. Other healthcare leaders have also stepped down over the past few months. How much of this is due to politics trumping medical science and public health measures? 

The decision made recently to open the province up when we are still struggling to manage large numbers of hospitalized patients was a decision that did not heed the medical profession’s advice. These decisions place an undue burden on an already exhausted workforce.

I started this article by saying high functioning healthcare systems worldwide have physician leaders at the helm. I hope this will be considered when the search is conducted for the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority. While it is essential to have administrative skills to perform well in these positions, it is imperative that a clinical lens be applied. Let’s not reinvent the wheel, or worse, go backwards; the literature reports the proof. We should be continuing to build a high-functioning healthcare system that listens to and welcomes physician leaders.

Thank you for providing care during the pandemic and for your flexibility and perseverance to meet the needs of your patients, especially when you are tired. Thanks to those who work as pandemic leaders helping to identify the best ways to manage the situation, literally on the fly, due to the ever-changing information. We have witnessed multiple examples of excellent physician leadership during these trying times.

There are challenges other than COVID that we need to address in our healthcare system. Racism is an important issue that negatively affects all aspects of care for the patient and the providers. If we are to achieve the necessary culture change, it will require our collective efforts.

I hope that you will continue to serve in healthcare leadership, whether it is helping the College in our role in regulating the profession, tackling systemic racism in healthcare, serving in roles within the SHA or shaping health policy. I encourage physicians to apply for the recently vacated CEO position at the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

I hope that some of you have escaped the cold and have felt the warmth of the sun and sand this winter. For those of us who have not, I look forward to the sunshine and warm breezes of the spring and summer months that will bring a welcome reprieve from COVID-19 and our cold winter. Take the time to refresh and refocus. Hopefully, after that renewal you’ll be ready to accept new leadership challenges. More than ever, our Saskatchewan healthcare system needs you as a physician leader.

[1] Angood, Peter, MD, FRCS(C), FACS, FCCM, and Birk, Susan “The Value of Physician Leadership PEJ, May-June, 2014.

[2]Exploring the Dynamics of Physician Engagement and Leadership for Health System Improvement. Prospects for Canadian Healthcare Systems – Final Report – April 4, 2013. Denis, Jean-Louis, Baker, G. Ross, Black, Charlyn, etc.

Respectfully submitted,

Karen Shaw

  Dr. Karen Shaw has served as Registrar and CEO of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan since 2011.