Volume 11, Number 1 August 8, 2003

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Panel says College of Medicine must be adaptable

By Michelle Boulton

A wide-ranging panel provided lively debate on "The Role of the College of Medicine in the New Model of Medicare" in front of a packed downtown banquet room June 27 - part of the College's Highlights In Medicine conference.

The session was moderated by U of S alumnus and NBC news personality, Keith Morrison.

With a range of representation from the College, the medical profession and the general public, the panel offered varied opinions - but the animated discussion showed that most panel-members think if the College is to continue to serve the community and its students, it must become more adaptable.

Briane Scharfstein, Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, said the College needs to "stay the course" and continue to prepare well-qualified physicians for the future. Because that future is difficult to predict, he said Saskatchewan needs a college that is flexible and able to respond to change.

"I think the challenge will be for the College of Medicine to convince the public, the profession, other caregivers and, maybe more importantly, government that physicians foremost, and the College of Medicine as well, are in the best position to plan the future of health care," said Scharfstein.

College of Medicine Dean William Albritton, agreed. One of the ways he sees the College adapting to become more responsive to the needs of the Saskatchewan people is to move from a solely university-based education into the community and the more remote areas of the province. He said this would provide students with firsthand experience and training in this type of medicine.

Third-year medical student Rebecca Warburton is Vice-president of the College of Medicine Student Medical Society. She said that while the College already "does an amazing job of exposing [students] to different types of medicine," she is concerned about the lack of specialty training positions available.

She also indicated that tuition fees of nearly $10,000 per year are becoming prohibitive. "Most medical students have to get a bank loan and a student line of credit to pay tuition, and the average debt exceeds $50,000. This acquired debt influences every decision we make, including what area of medicine we want to practise and where we want to do it," she said.

For others, the cost of medical treatment was a higher priority than the cost of education. According to Charles Wright, a medical and academic affairs consultant and former head of the College's Department of Surgery, there is only so much that can be done with the funding available. He said demands on the health care system have changed over the years from caring for people who are sick to improving their quality of life, and if people don't lower their expectations of the health care system, Medicare won't survive.

"We've reached the point of absurdity in what people believe. Is there anyone here who believes we can do everything that's possible to do, to everyone who needs it, immediately and without delay? Yet we sort of pretend politically that this is still possible," he said

Saskatoon radio talk-show host John Gormley had a different perspective on public expectations. He said Canadians have "a profoundly personal relationship with health care." He theorized that people don't worry about the details of how a health care system works, but that the average person simply "wants timely access to treatment within a health care system where bankruptcy is not a consequence of getting sick."

After the debate, President Peter MacKinnon said he is "very optimistic about the future of the College of Medicine" because of its outstanding history and the number of initiatives currently underway.

His optimism echoed comments by former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow who, before the panel debate, gave the audience an update on implementation of his Royal Commission Report on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Romanow said the greatest challenge to the College of Medicine is that "Canadians trust that we can get it right and that trust must be rewarded and not dashed."

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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