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July 30, 2019

Northern Routes

Dynamic conversations and creating a culture of kindness

Hello. Bonjour. Aaniin. Boozhoo.

Since my last blog, I’ve met an incredible number of new people. I had the honour of meeting NOSM’s Indigenous Reference Group (IRG) and Ogichidaang Gagiigatiziwin — NOSM’s Circle of Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers — on July 19. I’d like to extend my gratitude to the IRG and the Elders for the Welcome Ceremony and the Eagle Feather that they gifted me. As well, I met with Monique Rocheleau, Chair of the Francophone Reference Group on July 9. I shall cherish the trust and kinship that these meetings generated for us all.


We were fortunate to host a meeting in Sudbury at our School with the Federal Minister of Health, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, and MPs Paul Lefebvre and Marc Serré last week. We discussed NOSM’s unique social accountability mandate and our potential to push that mandate to the next level. We talked about barriers to equitable access to care, the disparity between rural versus urban health care, the greater opportunities for Federal support and partnership, critical health human resource issues, health-care delivery issues and building capacity. I’m happy to say that our messages were direct, clear and were heard. NOSM is positioned to be a resource to the Federal government in solutions to health human resource planning, policy in social determinants of health, addictions and Indigenous and Francophone health.


With great pleasure over the last two weeks, I met NOSM staff and visitors at the Meet and Greets, and at the graduation ceremony for the Northern Ontario Dietetic Internship Program. I’ve recently also had chats with medical student leadership, clinician-teachers from Sioux Lookout, Marathon, the union leadership, and I have many more people to meet with including political and academic leaders.

For me, there’s nothing better than putting a face to a name. Forging relationships and friendships in person, feeling the unique chemistry that arises when you have a chance to see someone’s face responding to their reactions and to one another’s words—that’s where the true connection happens. Maya Angelou said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  You’ve all made me feel like I’m at home with family.

I have taken some time to reflect on the thoughts you’ve shared with me, in person, by email and other ways. I thank you for your stories and honest conversations. NOSM has achieved so much and, I’ve duly noted, you are all enthusiastically looking forward to a future where NOSM could do better. If I could summarize in one sentence what the common theme of this discourse has been, it would be: “Please refocus NOSM’s attention to the North, to the needs of partner communities, and please rekindle the passion we all felt when we came together to originally build the medical school.”

I’m not one to shy away from tough conversations and so I intend to also challenge you all to this: We must start facing the root issues that adversely affect the health of Northern communities. A few of these issues are human rights, systemic racism, youth suicide, the opioid crisis, the absence of clean water, the health impact of climate change and extreme floods and forest fires, higher rates of chronic disease, long-standing issues in food security and food prices, intergenerational trauma, and fear for personal safety and their impacts on social determinants of health.

I highlight these issues, because they lead me to dig deeper into what it truly means to be socially accountable as a medical school. To truly prepare our learners to care for people in our communities, we must model genuine compassion. We must create environments of safety and caring. We must also make it a priority to become stewards and advocates of change. We must have a “culture of kindness.”

I believe NOSM can be a major player, indeed a leader in Canada, for innovation in health systems and health-care delivery addressing the disparities and the difficult challenges. We can address the fact that rural physicians (who are also NOSM faculty) face unique challenges in providing health care. That may mean different approaches to remuneration and health teams. NOSM’s social accountability mandate is to become a resource for faculty, patients, learners, staff and governments in providing answers to these emerging constructs. What social accountability might really look like for NOSM is a force for change; we can become leaders when it comes to stable health services, food security, water security and personal safety. We can be advocacy leaders for system-wide cultural change.

Social accountability might also mean opening the door to difficult conversations around anti-discrimination and mistreatment of one another. We know racism permeates beyond individuals, affecting entire societies and communities. We also know that learner mistreatment is a concern for everyone. In fact, students, staff and faculty have told me that maintaining a safe and healthy learning and working environment is a top issue for them.

The MD standards of accreditation say:  “A medical school ensures that the learning environment of its medical education program is: a) conducive to the ongoing development of explicit and appropriate professional behaviors in its medical students, faculty, and staff at all locations; b) one in which all individuals are treated with respect.”  In my humble opinion, NOSM must strive higher than ‘respect’, we must have a culture of professionalism that is safe and kind to all – learners, teachers and staff. Do you have ideas on how to effect that change? Let me know what you think.

As well, with all great change comes opportunity, which leads me to mention the career opportunities for faculty and staff that are coming up at the School. This week we have sent out the call for applications for the Associate Deans of Postgraduate Medical Education and of Research, to be followed by searches for the Associate Deans of Undergraduate Medical Education, Faculty Affairs and CEPD and a new Associate Dean position dedicated to Equity, Diversity and Northern Affairs. Please consider joining my team. I intend to leverage the social accountability mandate when it comes to promoting and hiring. When it comes to recruiting the leadership, we will look within the North. When it comes to promotions, we will make every first effort to promote from within. My reason is straightforward — to truly embody our social accountability mandate, we must build our dream team with the same values and in the same spirit that NOSM was founded on.

As usual, you are invited to follow my journey on Twitter @ddsv3 using #WhereisDrVerma. If you have feedback or ideas about how I can better communicate with you, please let me know by emailing me at dean@nosm.ca or by taking a quick survey here at any time.


Special Notes
Congratulations to NOSM’s Continuing Education and Professional Development (CEPD) Unit on receiving full accreditation from the Committee on Accreditation of Continuing Medical Education. A lot of hard work went into your achievement and I want to thank all members of the team for your ongoing innovation and vision.

The Word