“Advancing Family Medicine Globally through Scholarship, Social Responsibility and Strategic Partnerships”.
This is the headline goal of the current strategic plan of the University of Toronto Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM). When I arrived in Canada, three years ago, it was very clear that this department had a strong ongoing commitment to health equity and social accountability. This is not just included in our headline goal, but is an active component of the education and research and quality improvement work of many of our faculty, and it is a defining feature of the primary care services provided by each of our Family Medicine Teaching Units and our community teaching sites.
As your Chair, I am committed to ensuring that DFCM remains one of the most socially accountable academic departments of family medicine in the world. One of my first acts on arriving was to appoint a DFCM Vice-Chair for Global Health and Social Accountability. Dr. Katherine Rouleau took on this challenge with responsibility to not only lead our existing global health activities, but to ensure we continue to strengthen our work on social accountability, with a specific focus on our contributions to improving the health and wellbeing of all people in Canada, and especially Indigenous people and members of other groups who often miss out on many of the benefits of family medicine and primary care.
DFCM does extraordinary work in supporting family medicine development, not only in Canada, but also around the world. We have strengthened our involvement with the World Health Organization (WHO) by being designated as the world’s first WHO Collaborating Centre in Family Medicine and Primary Care. This has opened up opportunities for our faculty and residents to engage with the WHO at a global level, and across the Americas, in the development of global health policy and the rollout of global health programs that support improving access to health care for all people.
Global health, of course, begins at home and includes work in Canada. We continue to strengthen the focus on our contributions towards addressing the social determinants of health and supporting the work of our many faculty working with vulnerable and marginalized populations, in Toronto and in rural and remote Ontario. I have been especially impressed with the dedication of many of our faculty to addressing the specific health challenges of the people we serve, including Indigenous people, people who are homeless, people with HIV, people with addiction and mental health concerns, people on low incomes, people with disability, people living in rural and remote areas, and people who are refugees and new arrivals to Canada. These are all challenges with global implications and we need to be sharing our innovations and research findings and experiences with the rest of the world.
As part of advancing this work, and to help to promote collaboration amongst our faculty working in these areas, we have established the DFCM Social Accountability Committee, involving several of our faculty including Drs. Katherine Rouleau, John Ihnat, Eileen Nicolle, Gary Bloch, Ritika Goel, Vanessa Reddit, and Melanie Henry and others. Last April, these DFCM members held a retreat that brought together faculty, staff members, and patient and community representatives with a commitment and interest in social accountability and social justice. Three main priority areas came out of this retreat and have driven our subsequent work to actively respond to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Indigenous Health (working with our DFCM Indigenous Health lead, Dr. Suzanne Shoush), to assess the social accountability needs of the communities served by each of our academic teaching sites, and to develop a social accountability curriculum for our education initiatives for family medicine residents.
This April, DFCM will be launching our second annual University of Toronto Family Medicine Report, which highlights the research being undertaken across our department, and the insights gained through our UTOPIAN practice-based research network. This year’s report will have a focus on special populations, with chapters highlighting the role of our faculty in addressing social determinants of health, refugee health, Indigenous health, the health of people who are homeless, the health of people living with a disability, and many others.
These are examples of our department’s commitment to social accountability in action. As family doctors, each of us is accountable to the people and communities we serve. We also need to support our medical students and our residents to understand the impact of the social determinants of health on their patients and to be prepared to work where they are most needed, in Canada and around the world. And we need to continue to revisit and refine our department’s long and strong record of commitment to social responsibility as we work together to tackle the great primary health care challenges facing Canada and the world.
Professor and Chair
Department of Family and Community Medicine