Doctors Manitoba CEO Bobby Cram retires after 22 years of advocating for physicians
written by Robin Summerfield
It was January 29, 1996. Bobby Cram was starting his first day at a new job.
He had been hired as the Manitoba Medical Association’s new assistant executive director of negotiations.
Like any new employee on their first day of work, Mr. Cram wanted to make a favourable impression.
His body, however, had another idea.
“I had the worst case of strep throat you can imagine but I still went to work. My first day was not my best day,” Mr. Cram says with a chuckle. “But you can’t call in sick your first day.”
He managed to make it through that first day, and the following day, and the one after that, and the one after that.
And for the next 22 years, Mr. Cram made it his mission at Doctors Manitoba to better the professional lives of physicians, in turn, the delivery of health care, and ultimately, the health of Manitobans.
In January 2018, his tenure at Doctors Manitoba came to an end with Mr. Cram’s retirement. The former CEO leaves Doctors Manitoba in good stead, and in good hands. Former Manitoba Health Minister Theresa Oswald, most recently the executive director of the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg, has taken over the helm at Doctors Manitoba as its new CEO.
When asked how it feels to leave Doctors Manitoba after more than two decades, Mr. Cram quotes from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare.
“There is a tide in affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
“It was time,” Mr. Cram adds.
But before it was his time, Mr. Cram put in a lot of hard work and determination as he steadily ascended up through the ranks of Doctors Manitoba.
After seven years as the assistant executive director of negotiations, in July 2003 Mr. Cram took over as the director of negotiations.
He was a skilled negotiator, and a tough but fair adversary. He was a straight shooter.
Those personality traits served him well at the negotiating table, on the frontline and also behind the scenes. Mr. Cram built lasting professional relationships with the governments and health ministries of the day.
“His depth of knowledge, his understanding of the complexities of physician recruitment across the nation, and his deep respect for the importance of giving tax payers value for their money, made his contributions to all discussions essential,” says Ms. Oswald.
He had many accomplishments along the way.
In February 1999, after protracted discussions with Manitoba Health and the anesthetists, Mr. Cram established the Anesthesia Relative Value Guide. It included a relative value-fee schedule, rules of application, payment for out of hospital on-call, and an anesthesia committee.
“The deal has, in my view stood the test of time, kept unity in the anesthesia community, including GP anesthesia,” says someone who worked closely with Mr. Cram at Doctors Manitoba during this time.
In September 1999, Mr. Cram, still in his role as assistant executive director of negotiations, established fee schedules for Ultrasound and MRI. “These fee schedules are critical in preventing radiologists from outside the province bidding for the work which was a potential if the payment structure continued to be on the basis of contract,” Mr. Cram’s colleague says.
With those accomplishments and more, Mr. Cram ultimately earned his place at the top of the organization.
In 2010, Mr. Cram took over as acting CEO before taking the position permanently in May 2012.
Mr. Cram came by his interest in labour relations and negotiations honestly.
He grew up in Cowdenbeath, a coal mining town north of Edinburgh, Scotland. He was immersed in the culture of labour relations, working conditions, the plight of miners, and the influence and impact of unions. Labour relations was in his DNA. That interest never waned and carried him throughout his professional life. Mr. Cram worked for Manitoba Health on the other side of the table, before coming to Doctors Manitoba.
As CEO of Doctors Manitoba, he was a focused leader, and developed lasting relationships with Board members.
Mr. Cram encouraged lively debate on the Board, says Dr. David Cram, former Board president, and current Canadian Medical Association Board representative for Manitoba.
Dr. Barbara Kelleher, also a past president on the Board, was impressed how Mr. Cram shifted from his role as tough, and sometimes “hot-headed” negotiator to a steady, capable, and widely respected CEO.
“When he turned to focusing on being the CEO, I think that was a tough transition but he did it really well,” says Dr. Kelleher.
There was always, and remains, a counterpoint to Mr. Cram’s tough negotiator side “He is a gentle giant. Just an honest, hard working, down to earth guy who knew his stuff,” she says.
Dr. Aaron Chiu, current president of the Board for Doctors Manitoba agrees. Mr. Cram never forgot the big picture and his responsibility to those he served.
“That’s a complete different side to him, a big teddy bear instead of being hard as nails; being really soft individual to recognize what we do as a profession, and that is look after our patients and our community.”
Mr. Cram is now looking after a new ‘community.’
Spending time with his wife Donna, and helping out with his toddler grandson George, are top priorities. There will be golf games this summer, including rounds with former colleagues and past presidents. There has already been an extended vacation in Mexico over winter 2018. A Mediterranean cruise is also on the horizon.
Reading more literature and history books are also on the agenda, says Mr. Cram.
But this avid history lover isn’t one to dwell on his own past.
When asked what he is most proud of from his time at Doctors Manitoba, Mr. Cram hedges.
“That’s not one I can answer, really. But I can say I had quite a lot of fun,” he says. “If you can have fun at your job you are very, very fortunate. And I was very fortunate.”