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2021: A year dedicated to climate and social justice

Posted on January 12, 2021

So far, 2021 has started out as a political hot potato, both for our American neighbours and our own rising number of COVID-19 cases across Ontario. Yet, here in Northern Ontario, with vaccinations on the horizon, this new year brings some promise of the end (but not the eradication) of COVID-19 as a pandemic. It is the anticipation of in-person reconnection with loved ones, and hopefully, the resumption of academic and business work. We are taking stock and planning new courses of action to better ourselves and to better serve our communities. This year our resolution might be to re-evaluate the meaning of ‘normal’ and whether we should go forward having learned some valuable lessons from 2020.

On average, each of us makes two New Year’s resolutions. From Thunder Bay to Sudbury, Toronto to Vancouver, there are interesting similarities. The two very common resolutions tend to be weight loss and exercise, and quitting alcohol or cigarettes. There is a common desire to become better people and to achieve a higher purpose. On the first day of the year people take their values more seriously. I love new beginnings. It’s a great way to throw away anything that may have been pulling you down, get over mistakes you’ve made, and start something with a fresh head and a heavy dose of positivity. So, here are five big ideas on how I want to take NOSM forward in 2021.

1.    Be an advocate for social justice

Justice is the concept of fairness. Social justice is fairness as it manifests in society. That includes fairness in health care, employment, housing, and more. Discrimination and social justice are not compatible. Social justice depends on four essential goals: human rights, access, participation, and equity. Social justice can’t be achieved without these four principles. Do not be afraid to engage in conversations with loved ones, coworkers, and friends. Microaggressions which can appear in the form of racist jokes or statements, perpetuate and normalize biases and prejudices. Remember that not saying anything or laughing along implies that you agree. Remember that all forms of oppression are connected. You cannot fight against one form of injustice and not fight against others. I think that is obvious from the political turmoil we are observing. Now, more than ever, I am so glad we live in a country that tries to address the inequities of our society.

2.    Undertake curricular reform

Medical schools strive to embody innovation, and seasoned ones are seeking compliance with current principles of adult learning, the needs of society, the changing nature of health care and how current students learn best. This year we will ask: What should prompt a medical school to change a curriculum (whether it be reform of the full curriculum, or limited to a specific course)? How should such change be conducted? What kinds of paradigms may inform such a change? What constitutes a success in curricular reform? And how can curricular reform be evaluated within a reasonable timeframe? A new curriculum designed for the future and which includes equity, environmental change, digital and virtual medicine and more out-of-the-classroom teaching will be explored this year.

3.    Embrace a new culture of kindness, respect and professionalism

In the pandemic, we have experienced high levels of stress. Now more than ever, a positive space is important for our physical and mental wellbeing. As Aesop once said, “no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” This year, as we start to re-enter a world lifted from physical distancing, I encourage you to practice random acts of kindness. Kindness is contagious and leads to more collaborative and cooperative behaviours in others. We are adding the Code of Respect to our NOSM resources and endorsing the Okanagan Charter to integrate wellness into all aspects of education and work. Our medical school will work to embody kindness in everything we do. We ask you to respect each other and to be the true professionals that the health system demands.

4.    Deal with climate change

The world’s best scientists tell us that to undo the most extreme scenarios of climate change, 2021 must be the year for coordinated, comprehensive climate action. But we’ve got a lot of work to do before then. The good news is that the global momentum around climate change is building toward a crescendo. The number of Canadians who are now either “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change has doubled in the past five years. Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life, including students, teachers, communities of faith, and health-care professionals, are taking to the streets to demand climate action. This year, I hope that NOSM’s Task Force on Climate Change is going to lead us in addressing climate change in our curriculum, policies and infrastructure.

5.    Get excited, be passionate, and have new, dangerous ideas

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all,” Oscar Wilde. Now don’t take me literally. I am not advocating illegal or perilous actions. I believe that to bring forth creativity, innovation can only occur with the catalyst of a new idea. In other words, let’s not cling to the ‘way it has always been done’. NOSM is still a young school and should not be so easily held back by tradition or risk aversion. Innovation does not come by following the mainstream or the status quo. Innovation is about creating change, discovery, and examining new ideas – it thoughtfully considers out-of-the-box or upside-down thinking and implements methods that might at first seem uncomfortable, unconventional, or even wild. This year, I hope to bring people together from all areas of NOSM and offer them the freedom and flexibility to share and discuss the “dangerous” ideas in a safe environment.

Of course, the big catalyst for change in 2021 that will be remembered and will have the most impact is the V word: Vaccination. Everyone, please get vaccinated as soon as the opportunity is provided.

Please continue to follow my journey on Twitter @ddsv3.  I welcome input on this blog and other issues you want to bring to my attention by email to

Mark your calendar for the next Whole School Webinar

We will be holding one of our regular whole school webinars on Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 8:00 a.m. Updates on COVID-19 and other important school issues will be presented.

Vaccinators Needed 

NOSM and Ornge (Ontario Air Ambulance Corporation) are partnering to deliver the vaccination roll-out in remote First Nations in Northern Ontario. Plans are underway to begin deploying vaccination teams by mid-February. Please volunteer to join the vaccination roll-out. We will be seeking volunteers to join the air transport vaccination teams, including: senior medical students, residents, clinical faculty, and alumni. Those with experience providing care in Indigenous communities are encouraged to apply.  NOSM will also soon be seeking volunteers to assist with the vaccination roll-out in partnership with the public health units across the region to assist with vaccinations to the population at large.

*Check your NOSM email for more details that will be sent over the next few weeks.

Dr. Hirvi awarded CAME Certificate of Merit

Congratulations Dr. Ed Hirvi, recipient of the 2021 Certificate of Merit Award from the Canadian Association for Medical Education (CAME). Dr. Hirvi is the NOSM Section Co-Chair, Family Medicine. The award recognizes faculty members committed to medical education in Canadian medical schools. We are so grateful for all you do at NOSM!

Register for the Women’s Health Symposium

Join us for the first virtual Northeastern Women’s Health Symposium on January 22 & April 16, 2021. Topics will include on management of dysmenorrhea & Endometriosis, non-invasive prenatal testing, cervical cancer screening during a Pandemic, abnormal uterine bleeding, and vulvar health. The conference is targeted to family physicians, specialists, medical learners and allied health professionals with an interest in women’s health. Register here.

Register for Northern Lights 2021

“Daring Leadership in Difficult Times,” is the theme for Northern Lights 2021: Pan Northern Leadership Forum with two of Canada’s top physician leaders, Drs. Jane Philpott and Gigi Osler, on February 25- 26. Together we will explore daring leadership in an ever-changing and unpredictable world. Dare to engage in difficult conversations with courage and empathy. Dare to support leadership diversity, equity and inclusion on your teams, with your colleagues and at NOSM. Register here.