An Unusual Time to be President
Dr. Cory Baillie has charted a new way forward for Doctors Manitoba during an unusual year
By Ashley Smith
When a President-Elect of Doctors Manitoba officially takes over the organization’s reigns, there’s a ceremony to physically “pass the chain of office” from the former president to the new, surrounded by hundreds of their peers.
It’s a ceremony steeped in tradition. Feeling the gold chain’s weight combined with the new responsibilities, the new president traditionally takes the podium to speak of the many challenges ahead.
In the months before COVID-19, a time that’s almost hard to imagine now, Dr. Cory Baillie wrote his acceptance speech. He was preparing for a different kind of presidency. But then, the pandemic happened.
Dr. Baillie stepped into the role of President of Doctors Manitoba in May 2020. It was clear early on the annual gala in May would be cancelled, disrupting the traditional speeches and the passing of the chain. And while Dr. Baillie had warm tidings prepared for the crowd that night, nothing could have prepared him, or anyone, for the cold, harsh reality of COVID-19.
At the time, Canadians were in full lockdown, and seven Manitobans had died from COVID. Virtual care was new at the time, enabling physicians to continue seeing some patients from a safe distance. But for physicians and support staff on the front lines, there would be ongoing issues surrounding personal protective equipment (PPE). And that was just the beginning of the pandemic.
“No one could have foreseen what being a leader of Manitoba’s physicians would be like during a pandemic,” says Dr. Baillie. “But before I stepped into the role, and before we had ever heard of COVID-19, the Doctors Manitoba Board and the organization were developing a new strategic plan. The main pillars of which have within them the precise priorities we need right now, more than ever, as we battle this pandemic.”
With this new plan, Doctors Manitoba looked forward to the next four years with a new mission of strengthening and supporting the whole physician, including not only their economic well-being, but also their mental and physician health and professional development.
“Traditionally,” Dr. Baillie says, “people think of Doctors Manitoba as a body for negotiation, but that’s only one part of what we do. While we ensure doctors are being remunerated fairly, we now advocate for health, wellness, and all the pillars of our strategic plan. Doctors Manitoba stands strong against short- sighted decisions against physicians. Our physicians and our patients deserve to be treated to the best of our collective ability.”
The plan focuses on five pillars, the first of which is cultivating physician unity.
“In order for Doctors Manitoba to have an effective voice, we need to be united as a profession,” says Dr. Baillie. “That’s why it’s important that in any decision we make as an association of physicians, we first and foremost have unity and support each other. While we’ve reached out, asking our members if they feel united, we know there’s still work to do.”
The second pillar focuses on the economic well- being of all members. “This is largely reflected in our negotiations with government,” says Dr. Baillie. “While it’s challenging to deal with government, we want to ensure that physicians’ well-being is respected, and their needs are being met.”
Critically, physicians’ well-being is top-of-mind now. Advocating for every physician’s health and wellness, the third pillar of the strategic plan, is something Doctors Manitoba takes very seriously.
“Especially during COVID-19, the pressure on physicians has grown exponentially,” Dr. Baillie says. “Doctors are worried about the health of their patients and the health of Manitobans; however, they’re also worried about their own health, and the health of their families. On top of this, they feel the regular stresses all Manitobans feel – a fear of what the future entails.”
While developing the strategic plan, it became clear that some members felt that Doctors Manitoba wasn’t as vocal or outward-focused as it could have been. The fourth pillar will focus on being a compelling voice for the physicians of Manitoba. “We’ve worked to change that and during the pandemic we’ve had a strong media presence,” Dr. Baillie explain, noting a stronger and more assertive public presence has been needed during the pandemic.
That public presence has included regular media coverage about physician issues, like a lack of PPE or the need for more virtual care. It has also included advertising campaigns, the first by Doctors Manitoba in at least a decade or two, to raise the public’s awareness about continuing to seek care during the pandemic and following public health advice to stop the spread of COVID-19.
These days, when Dr. Baillie, a rheumatologist with a busy practice at the Manitoba Clinic, isn’t treating patients, he is advocating for physicians’ needs and drawing attention to the strain on the health system.
The final pillar of the strategic plan is to provide exceptional service to and for members. Dr. Baillie is proud of the team at Doctors Manitoba for their outstanding work when it comes to supporting physicians. When he thinks about his time as president so far, there’s one particularly riveting story.
Back in April, as the pandemic hit, it was clear that members would need all the help they could get. After initial shortages and inconsistencies with PPE orders through Shared Health, most doctors were under-resourced during the first wave of the pandemic. Serious compromises were being made that left doctors at risk of exposure to the virus.
When it became clear what the impact of the lack of PPE meant for Manitoba’s doctors, the staff at Doctors Manitoba mobilized to source the protective equipment physicians needed so they could continue to provide safe, quality care for their patients.
“I just want to take a moment to thank Theresa and her team for what they did,” says Dr. Baillie. “That sense of forward-thinking, commitment and humanity is what Doctors Manitoba is all about.”
Heading into the winter, with the numbers of COVID cases rising and restrictions being reinstated, it’s clear this pandemic is far from over.
“We must maintain focus on the pillars of our plan,” says Dr. Baillie. “We will never achieve our goals unless we continue with our commitment to the unity, health, and well-being of all physicians in Manitoba.”
Dr. Baillie may have delivered his speech to a computer screen rather than in front of hundreds of colleagues as he stepped into the role of President. He may not have had the gold chain draped over his shoulders by the outgoing President. Still, he is proving his ability to carry the weight of his role during this most daunting year.