Archive | February, 2013

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The 4-1-1 on Medical Student advocacy on Parliament Hill

Posted on 05 February 2013 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

The first weekend of February is usually quite a special weekend. No I’m not talking about Ground Hog day here. It’s special because it is generally the time when medical students coast to coast in Canada assemble (much like the Avengers) on Parliament Hill in the 613 (that’s Ottawa, yo) to lobby for political action and greater advocacy. It’s an event that is hosted and organized by the Canadian Federation of Medical Students.

This year, I was part of the Schulich delegation to this CFMS Lobby Days. As such, I’m going to be sharing with YOU the big Cole’s notes of this weekend. I realize that advocacy is an area that is pretty ambiguous during our years of medical training, so I hope that this experience of advocacy work (while by no means the only type of advocacy experience), helps shine some light on how medical student advocacy can work.

So first things first: Ottawa is cold. WAY. TOO. COLD. Especially for a balmy wuss of a Vancouverite like myself. Quickly after arrival at Ottawa, I realized why all the politicians still use Blackberrys: 20 seconds after exposing your bare fingers to operate a touch screen and the beginnings of frost bite start setting in. Truth.

Another immediate impression: try avoiding to schedule the hotel for all your delegates at the same “Official” hotel of Winterlude, the massive annual winter festival in Ottawa during the same period. Essentially the hotel we were staying at was completely overbooked between tourists, med students, even a wedding party.

No. We did not crash the Wedding.

So our first day, Saturday, consisted of just getting settled in and meeting the other delegates. I noticed a lot of familiar faces, I guess these circles are pretty tight knit. Should be something I can expect moving forward. Back in my undergraduate days of student union politics the term we used was ‘hacks’. Well, it’s funny seeing so many med student political ‘hacks’ too. It was doubly funny running into Tahara, a 3rd year at UBC, who was a political hack with me back when we were members of the UBC student union council.

As a side note, this was the first time I got to skate on the Rideau Canal. While it was definitely a fun experience, and OMG MAPLE TAFFY IS DELICIOUS, $16 for a 2 hours of skate rental is definitely a bit expensive.

During the second day, the delegates spent 8 hours of the Sunday night and afternoon being trained on how to approach MPs and what exactly was the best way to frame our concerns and the Ask we are lobbying for (without getting into too many details, our Ask this year focused on improving the level of research and information at the national level on how to project future health human resource demands). There was a variety of speakers from different realms of political experience, and several workshops to practise. In the end of it all, we learned some valuable lessons on advocacy, communications, student leadership, and self-development.

These included points such as:

  • An MD is not an auto leadership indicator, it simply is an opportunity to become a leader
  • One of the best things a person could possibly do as a leader is to surround themselves with smarter people
  • If you want something done efficiently, force a lazy person to do it
  • No mistake or ‘inadvertent’ complexity in a piece of federal policy is done so simply by accident
  • There are differences between simple, complicated, and complex
  • Everyone likes to chirp Mac. Even Mac grads will deliberately go out of the way to beak the Mac medical experience

With all these, and many more points discussed, we were ‘trained’ to disperse and conquer the Nation’s capital.

Monday consisted of over 70 separate meetings between students, MPs, Senators, and Ministers’ Aides. It was very astounding to see the amount of activity that was happening. While I only had 3 meetings, I kept on running into students off to conduct their own sessions. We were everywhere.

Another thing that was astounding: the cold. It got windy. Damn.

Two other shocks, that really shouldn’t have been shocks, came during the day was how prevalent Twitter use among politicians was, and how many security check points I had to go through. I guess Obama made Twitter cool for every politician because they were much more prolific on the social media front than many of the students. The issue about security made sense. I mean it was the nation’s capital. I guess protecting it every now and then would be expected.

Overall, my experience with how our Asks were received was pretty positive. I had a wide range of MPs to speak to, from all the different parties. They all seemed to be on the same page regarding improving health human resources and getting the ball rolling on figuring out what the long term needs of Canadian patients would be. Despite all the grandstanding and overt displays of theatrics in Question Period, the MPs were all very willing and happy to hear from young minds talking about concerns that could impact the health of many citizens.

I guess it’s easy to forget or overlook the fact that many of these MPs started their roles out of desire to serve their constituents and to improve things in their ridings…based off the understanding of what needs to be fixed. In a lot of the way, it’s similar to the way physicians operate. We both are service leaders, and often the second word in that label ‘scares’ the public from approaching us. However, when speaking to the MPs, it became quickly easy to  see that what was really happening was merely two people forming a relationship and starting a dialogue.

So what’s the big deal with Lobby Day weekend? Despite the cold (for the 3rd time yes I know), it was a great experience. Getting to see the capital was a great privilege, as was the opportunity to meet and work with some of the brightest medical student minds from across the country. However, where the real value lies is in seeing how simple the whole advocacy process works. It’s about just getting out there and speaking your mind to someone you would like something out of. It shouldn’t be too difficult, after all, we all went through FIFE.

I highly encourage any student out there with the slightest interest in learning more about the role of politics and health care policy on the practise of physicians to considering coming out to the next set of Lobby Days as they happen nationally next year at the same time, or provincially under the OMSA in April.

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Siete sempre nel mio cuore

Posted on 01 February 2013 by Hao Li (Meds 2016)

The first part of the title means “You are always in my heart” in Italian, and as the blissful season of Valentine’s Day approaches, many of us would hold these sweet words (in English, of course) dearly in our hearts. And perhaps there from our lips will escape so many classic love songs that we have grown up with and adored, such as “My Heart Will Go On” (Titanic), or “If I Never Knew You” (Pocahontas). But for someone like me who grew up with classical music, every time I listen to these modern romantic tunes I really appreciate how much we (as a society) have taken the musical expression of love for granted. The honest truth is that people of the Western World, such as ourselves, have not always enjoyed this freedom. Throughout most of our history so far music had been a tightly regulated art form, and so the profession of romance through song had likewise needed to follow strict standards.

But we know that music evolves, a process described so concisely and eloquently by the Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff: “All great composers and performers have built upon the ruins of conventions that they themselves have destroyed.” This Valentine’s season we shall pay homage to a selection of these courageous individuals, who represent a classical genre that I have always deeply treasured. Indeed, no other genre fits this time of the year better than opera. Looking back in time, we shall explore how four great composers took the operatic love scene in an evolutionary process through four historical periods. And by doing so they carried the love song to its limits, granting us the freedom today to express our romantic passion with unrestrained intoxication.


George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): “No no, I’ll take no less” from Semele (1744)

Whoever said that violent relationships cannot be of true love? Just imagine the eroticism when Semele, a mortal woman, forces the father of gods Jupiter to make love to her not disguised as a man, but with his full power unveiled (resulting eventually in fatal consequences). Now that’s true love! In many ways, Semele is typical of countless other Baroque operas during Handel’s time. It is based on Greek mythology, features a few number of lines repeated over and over again, and is decorated by notoriously convoluted melismas (a single word sung to at least two dozen notes). If you thought that was bad, recognize that Handel also had to work with an extremely sparse orchestra—probably no more than twenty musicians. With the added obligation to follow draconian guidelines on regular phrasing and proper harmonies, the German master really did not possess many tools to express himself. But he insightfully used what he had to imbue this aria with a new level of life. Taking advantage of the turbulent rhythm conventional in Baroque music, Handel makes the aria spark with the fire of tension and frustration. As the listener, you can almost feel as if you were there in the scene. And you desperately wish that you are not Jupiter, berated by the commanding lash of Semele’s melismas, which are so terrifying that they make your hairs stand on one end.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791): “Papageno, Papagena” from Die Zauberflöte (1791)

One of Mozart’s greatest ambitions was to depart from the traditional subject matters of opera, based largely on Greek mythology and classic history, and focus on down-to-earth topics that ordinary people could relate to. This is clearly exemplified in some of his best-known works, such as Die Entführung aus dem Serail, which tells of how a Spanish nobleman set out to rescue his wife who had been kidnapped by Turkish pirates, and Le nozze di Figaro, which recounts the love story of a soon-to-be servant couple and how it was almost ruined by the lustful eyes of the fiancée’s master (major breach of professionalism…). Similarly in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), Mozart’s final opera, gone are the Olympian gods and Roman warriors of antiquity, replaced instead by a world of princes and magicians and bird-catchers. In “Papageno, Papagena”, the bird-catcher Papageno and his lover Papagena utter their inexpressible astonishment and joy upon reuniting, for they really had not expected to see each other again. One must appreciate how natural their conversation sounds compared to the overly poetic lines of Semele. And even more, Mozart takes the liberty of adding a tinge of playfulness to the dialogue. At the beginning of the duet, so caught by surprise is the couple that they stutter for two phrases (“Pa-pa-pa…”) before finally pronouncing each other’s names. And near the end, they joyfully proclaim a bright future with lots of children, a bunch of little Papagenos and Papagenas. The genius of Mozart lies in his ability to achieve all this in the context of a strict musical structure with regular phrases. But he was not able to do it perfectly, for some parts of the exchange indeed sounds rigid (you would probably not want to talk like this to your Valentine). During this period of operatic history, the text still needed to serve the music to a large degree.


Georges Bizet (1838-1875): “Parle-moi de ma mère” from Carmen (1875)

The significance of this duet is that it is the final glimpse of innocence we see before the storyline plunges into its tragic course of destruction; it is truly the rose before the fire. Here, the Spanish soldier Don José and his beautiful fiancée Micaëla longingly dream about their home in the village, and while the subject matter concerns almost entirely José’s mother, such topic creates a perfect setting, pastoral and romantic, for the expression of their unspoken love. In this Romantic Period of opera, compared to Mozart’s time, there is a shift of emphasis to the outpouring of emotions, characterized by major advances such as looser phrase structures, greater diversity of harmonies, and a larger orchestra (the orchestra in Carmen featured at least forty musicians). Indeed, we hear a wonderful marriage of poetry and poignancy with a sensible flow and simplicity in “Parle-moi de ma mère”, a passionate duet decorated by lush figures in the strings. However, despite such revolutionary employment of the orchestra by Bizet in his final opera, it serves for the most part as merely an accompaniment, a supporting background. As we shall see in the next section, our psychological concept of the “freedom of romantic expression” cannot be complete without a complete lack of musical restraint, which entails releasing the orchestra itself from its cage, in which it arduously struggles to be set free.


Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924): Love Duet from Madama Butterfly (1904)

The great Italian composer Giacomo Puccini actually began his compositional career producing music for the church, but not long after turned to opera. Puccini probably realized early on that he could never fulfill the modest and reserved conventions of church music. We see this all too clearly in Madama Butterfly, an opera telling of the ill-fated love between an American captain and an innocent little Japanese girl. Indeed, the Love Duet which powerfully concludes Act I exhibits a complete absence of emotional control; here everything is unleashed. As the music enters our ears it splits open our mind and releases our subconscious, which tortures us with divine flames of catharsis. Oh how we cry and tremble! Within our heart an indescribable fear is realized, and yet we cannot tear ourselves away from the music, until it gradually consumes our soul. Aside from the chest-splitting vocal passages which Puccini is so well-known for, another major factor which gives Puccinian operas their unique feel is the extraordinary role that is performed by the orchestra. It is almost as if the orchestra itself is a narrator, recounting the story as the characters play it out in real time. At times it reinforces the plot, and at other times brings out subtle nuances and ominous foreshadows that the characters themselves do not even show. Finally, Puccini abandons the concept of absolute phrase structure with resolution. Every note, harmony, texture, timbre, every sound, exists to serve but one purpose: to portray the lovers’ fiery, single-minded passion for one another.


Here ends our journey, for now… On this tour through the history of the operatic love song we explored from the fiery turbulence of Handel, to the playful glee of Mozart, to the idyllic tenderness of Bizet, and finally to the passionate sensualism of Puccini. By their contributions the love song will never be the same. I sometimes wonder what romantic music would be like today had it not evolved from the Baroque times. Would we still be singing something like: “Oh my love, thou art like Venus (in other words, “sexy”). And I watch you, upon the heights of Mount Olympus (in other words, “from my balcony”)”? So this Valentine’s season, however you decide to express your passion musically for your significant other, whether through a soft, slow jazz CD or a guitar ballad that you wrote yourself, appreciate how much sweat and blood it cost those before you to buy you such privilege of free, uncensored expression. Remember the noble works of the great masters of opera.

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