Outgoing thoughts on a complex year

September 29, 2021

Dr. Paul Boucher, AMA President

Dear Members:

This President’s Letter is my last as AMA president and marks the official end of a term that was as unpredictable as it was eventful.

A year ago, when I stepped into this role at our first virtual AGM, I think we all hoped that by this time the pandemic would be under control and we would be approaching a return to some semblance of normalcy. Instead, we are now firmly in the throes of the fourth wave and are once again treading water as we watch our hospitalizations and ICU admissions reach record highs.

So much has happened this past year – more than I ever imagined a year ago, when my family stood behind me and put the chain of office on my shoulders. I recall at the time that it was surprisingly heavy. I have felt the weight of that responsibility often throughout the year, but have drawn strength from all of you – AMA members, my colleagues, the other officers, the Board and of course the AMA staff. Importantly, I was also supported by my wife, children and other family and friends. I could not have done it without all of you.

Last year, in my installation speech, I quoted Osler: “The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling … a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head.” I used this quote to frame the dedication you all have to your patients and practice. I have also witnessed this same dedication in the staff at the AMA, to our members. This year has been a difficult one for the Association, but what I have seen time and time again, is everyone going above and beyond. Long hours, late nights, countless weekends, all while working under a lot of uncertainty. I want to acknowledge this and provide my deepest thanks.

I also want to thank every member for doing what you do for your patients, the public and each other. “Long hours, late nights, weekends while under a lot of uncertainty” applies to all of you too. I fully realize the dedication to the profession that Osler alludes to in his quote comes at a price. As I heard so often from so many of you, this last year has taken its toll.

In the midst of a challenging relationship with government and the crisis of this fourth wave, I sought for something inspirational to say that would not use the phrases that have become trite over the past few months. “We are all in this together,” even though truer than ever, simply seems inadequate. Instead, I thought I would share a story.

I grew up in Northern Ontario, the son of a rural family physician. Nearly every summer we spent time canoeing on the rivers that were once used as the means of travel and trade. I remember one year when my father had been particularly busy, with long hours spent in his practice, the ER and delivering babies. He told me that while he was really looking forward to the trip, he had no time to organize it and asked me if I would be willing. This was no small task as we were to spend two weeks on the Missinaibi River destined for Moosonee, one of the longest free-flowing and undeveloped rivers in Ontario – truly remote wilderness. I was only a teenager but gladly agreed. I knew how tired he was and how much this trip meant to him.

As French Canadians, we often sang the old songs of the Voyageurs as we canoed, but when the time came to begin our trip, my father was unusually quiet – as I could tell he was in a rough spot. Along with planning the trip, I was also given the position in the stern of the boat where it became my job to steer us through the rapids. The water was very high and fast that year, making for a very different river than when we previously travelled it. The first rapid we encountered was one that should not have been run in an open boat – a solid Class III, for those of you that know rivers, but I sent us right down the middle. I remember the first wave hitting my dad face on – he then stopped paddling and rested his paddle crossways on the gunnels. That wave was the first of many. Sitting at the back of the boat, I could see that with each wave his shoulders slowly relaxed and his head began to bend forward. Once we were through, we bailed out the boat and after a few choice words about my navigational choices, we were on our way. Slowly the Voyageur songs began.

Over the years I have also known moments like these in my own life – and in this last year especially. Most often they are not epic adventures such as this one, but small things that surround me every day that remind me of what is truly important. I urge you to seek out these moments and let them wash over you. As hard as things get, this is what grounds us and keeps us going.

I have also come to know that the only thing better than these moments is being able to provide them to someone else. There is an Irish proverb that states, “In the shelter of each other the people live.” I realize that extending ourselves to others is challenging when we are facing our own struggles, but I would remind you that sometimes it is the smallest of gestures that provide this shelter to others, and in turn shelters us.

I want to thank Dr. Christine Molnar for her service and friendship as I now move into her role as immediate past president. And I extend a heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren, our new AMA president. I am looking forward to supporting you as Dr. Molnar did me.

When significant events come to an end they are often met with mixed emotions, including relief in being able to pass the torch and the frustration in leaving while so much is happening. I’m sure every AMA president that preceded me has felt the same. I am equally sure that if you could ask them, they would all agree that the most rewarding part of their term was interacting with you – the physicians of Alberta. For me, it has been the highlight of my term as president.

As I said in my inaugural President’s Letter last year – we are better together. We are stronger because of each other. We are the AMA. Thank you for the opportunity to experience the truth of those words.

Sincerely,

Paul E. Boucher, MD, FRCPC
President, Alberta Medical Association

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