Dr. Darcy Johnson

A Steady Calm

Long-time Doctors Manitoba Board member Darcy Johnson leaves a lasting legacy

Written by Robin Summerfield

After nearly a quarter century serving on the Board of Doctors Manitoba, Dr. Darcy Johnson is moving on.
“After 23 years, I think it’s time to go,” he says.

After serving as a constituency representative, a prior Chair of Governance committee, and a term as president, Dr. Johnson is stepping down from his role on the Doctors Manitoba board. He will, however remain an Urban member at large on the Section of Family Practice Executive committee.

“I look at the amazing people with all the energy and the ideas. They are the ones that should be taking things forward now,” Dr. Johnson says. “And we have an incredible line-up of presidents coming up. I look at our superb, new board that will take Doctors Manitoba forward, I think we’re in really good shape.”

“I am so pleased with our new CEO Theresa Oswald because she is a skilled strategist,” he adds.

Dr. Johnson also enjoyed working with “so many great past presidents,” Bobby Cram and John Laplume, previous CEOs. He praises Doctors Manitoba’s “superb staff, who were always helpful to me,” he says.

In 23 years, he never missed a single board meeting, despite juggling a busy family practice in East Kildonan, hospital service at Concordia Hospital, caring for offenders, part-time at Stony Mountain Institution, and serving as the Manitoba CMA board  representative as well as on numerous CMA committees. He was also named one of Canada’s Family Physicians of the year in 2009. He is currently the Manitoba CMPA councillor.

His career accomplishments would not be possible without the support of his wife and family, he says.

During his time at Doctors Manitoba, Dr. Johnson was instrumental in helping the organization make changes that would benefit physicians, and ultimately their patients.

His list of accomplishments are long, varied and lasting.  In 2008 as the Manitoba Medical Association also marked its 100th year, Dr. Johnson served as the 100th president. That year, he proposed renaming the MMA to Doctors Manitoba. “I felt it was time to refresh,” he says.

During his year as president, he also successfully advocated for a smoking ban in cars when children are present. Dr. Johnson also lead the charge to build a new office for Doctors Manitoba, moving the headquarters from Sherbrook Street to the brighter and more spacious home on Desjardins Drive, where it lives today.

While serving on the board, Dr. Johnson and his colleagues adopted OPA as a benchmark process for fee setting. “This has helped maintain unity among Manitoba physicians and improve our fee competitiveness across Canada.” About a decade ago, the Board underwent an extensive governance review which took it from being “largely operational to more strategic in nature,” says Dr. Johnson.

None of Dr. Johnson’s accomplishments surprise Dr. Susan Fair, who has known him for 41 years. They were in the same medical school class in 1977. Later, they served on the Board together. Dr. Johnson’s skill during and after meetings with the province and health ministry made him an invaluable resource for Doctors Manitoba, says Dr. Fair.

“His best feature is he has an incredible memory. He’s the memory of the institution,” she says.

“If you’re working on policy, he would remember the conversations with the minister. He was always very calm and had that corporate memory that is so valuable.”

Dr. Johnson and his board colleagues have also kept Doctors Manitoba fees the lowest in the country, and helped develop physician benefits and support programs for his members. Doctors Manitoba was the driving force in obtaining professional incorporation for doctors.

But he isn’t one to toot his own horn, says Dr. Fair.

“He’s modest,” she says. “He is never out there in the front. He’s there behind you, supporting you.”

Dr. Johnson was typically part of any collaboration to move things forward for physicians and patient care, says long-time colleague and Doctors Manitoba board representative for Misericordia, Dr. Sheila Domke. He worked with stakeholders, jumped on initiatives and championed pilot projects, she says.

They worked on the Medical Review Committee for Manitoba Health, where his calm, steady and thoughtful demeanour was invaluable, says Dr. Domke, who has known Dr. Johnson for 20 years.

He was a physician leader for family practice and a physician leader for his constituents, she says.

On the Medical Review Committee, Dr. Johnson and the team made substantive change, including pushing for MRI requisition power for family physicians, she says. The committee also helped universalize paperwork between all city hospitals, thereby eliminating major communication hurdles.

“He has been part of the action and early innovation,” says Dr. Domke. “He comes historically with good sense. He comes with some
sensibility about what’s happening in the community and the changes that have to be made to help to support our patients. He has always stepped up,” she says.

On the Doctors Manitoba board, he was thorough and thoughtful, whatever the issue at hand.

“I will miss his sensibility and common sense and primarily his integrity. He considers everything before he makes up his mind, and you don’t often find that,” says Domke.

Making up his mind, and guiding the decisions and direction of Doctors Manitoba going forward is something Dr. Johnson will have to learn to live without.

When asked what he will miss the most after 23 years at Doctors Manitoba, Dr. Johnson answers quickly.

“The people. I will miss the wonderful relationships with board members and staff. The Board has been my extended family,” Dr. Johnson says.

After a career of helping shape the profession and physician care, it will also be hard to push back from the Doctors Manitoba table where important decisions are made, Dr. Johnson admits.

I have enjoyed physician advocacy at the local, provincial and national levels and appreciate the respect afforded me by physicians.