The new president of the B.C. Medical Association is a straight-talking veteran of family practice. Shelley Ross spent 36 years treating generations of patients in Burnaby. Now, as she assumes her physician leadership role, she finds a Health Minister, Margaret MacDiarmid, who is also new to her job and a carbon copy of herself – not only a former family doctor, but a past president of the BCMA, as well. The Globe and Mail questioned Dr. Ross about her ex-colleague’s appointment, and other issues facing the medical profession.
This is the first time in memory that a doctor has served as Health Minister, and Margaret MacDiarmid once headed the BCMA, too. Some suggest that’s a possible conflict of interest.
I think we make a mistake right off the bat thinking that because she’s a doctor she’s going to be onside with the BCMA. Being a doctor gives her a very good perspective on health care. She was a family doctor before she was president of the BCMA, so she’s been on the front lines. And she’s been a patient, because she’s had some serious health issues, herself. So, I don’t think we should necessarily consider that she’s a BCMA person. It would be foolish to think that. But I do think it’s going to be wonderful to work with somebody who at least comes from a similar background, and thinks about things the way we do. I’m going to be calling her for a meeting very soon.
What’s on your agenda?
We still haven’t resolved the problem of Canadians who study medicine abroad. When they want to return to do a residency here, there are not enough spots for them, compared with international medical grads who have immigrated to Canada. Here, we’ve got actual Canadians, who are going abroad, getting a very good education. They’ve paid their own way. They haven’t cost Canadian taxpayers one cent. Yet, we are not giving them any advantage. I think we are wasting a resource, and I certainly want to bring that up with the minister.
Can you be accused of taking a personal interest in this because your son was in this situation?
Well, my son was a Canadian studying medicine abroad, but I’m fortunate to be able to say he’s doing a residency overseas, so there’s nothing in it for me, personally.
Two former women presidents of the BCMA, Hedy Fry and Dr. MacDiarmid, entered politics, after their terms were over. Are you going to follow them into the political realm?
Well, you never know what might come up after this year, and I’m not ruling it out, but it’s certainly not in the game plan right now.
When you closed your family practice, after 36 years, you were unable to find anyone to take it over. That’s rather astonishing, isn’t it?
It certainly brought to light the crisis we have in physician shortages. So many British Columbians have a hard time finding a doctor. I had a full-service practice, from womb to tomb, as they say. They were good patients. It’s not as if I was looking after a highly needy group. But nobody wanted to commit to long-term practice. The way physicians practise medicine is changing. They don’t want to be available 24/7.
What can be done? I guess we can’t go back to the old days.
I think it’s too bad that the old-style family doctor is disappearing, but you’re right. We can’t go back. We’ve got to sit down and figure out how to work together, so that perhaps there is a team approach. Maybe your family doctor won’t be one doctor, but a team of doctors.
Finally, why do so many doctors neglect to wash their hands?
There’s no excuse for that. We have an e-bulletin that goes out twice a month, and we’ve put in another reminder that there is no excuse.
What is it about the medical profession? I can’t understand it. Why this reluctance?
Well, I think there are as many excuses as there are doctors. But certainly we are reminding them that it is to their patients’ benefit to wash their hands.
Is there the same problem with doctors and flu vaccinations?
Yes. Maybe that also takes more reminding. I know that very few people who needed a flu vaccine got out of my office without getting one. And I was certainly the first person to line up each year to get mine.
Does the BCMA support the recent public-health edict that medical-care personnel who don’t get the flu vaccine must wear masks when treating patients?
Our members are fine with that.