OMSA Leadership Summit and Lobby Days

About a week ago, the Ontario Medical Student Association hosted it’s 2nd Annual Leadership Summit and Provincial Lobby Days over the weekend of April 6-8th. It was an opportunity for medical students across the province who were interested in the process of government and health care policy (AKA those who are secretly health care systems enthusiasts) to network, learn a few things about healthcare in Ontario, and then work in teams to actually lobby the provincial government on an issue that reflected medical student concerns from all 6 Ontario med schools. 

This year’s issue was related to the subject of health human resources; specifically, calling on the province to maintain a strategy of providing updated information about the anticipated health needs of Ontarians in the future. This information would be invaluable to not only help medical trainees plan their career paths more appropriately towards specialties which will likely be more in demand in the future, but also serve as a starting point for getting health care providers truly aware of which demographics and areas in the province have what needs. It’s a matter of getting the right people to the right places in the right time.

Aside from the lobbying aspect of the weekend, delegates from each school got the opportunity to enhance their learning by experiencing some leadership training provided by Dr. Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at the Schulich School of Business in York University. Sessions were grouped around the theme of Innovative Leadership, and what that could mean for healthcare leadership. Among the workshops I found the most enjoyable were learning a bunch of neat team building and problem solving techniques known collectively as liberating structures (more can be learned about them here: These techniques were powerful, yet quick ways to engage a group and get them working to the heart of an issue.

Now each of the 6 medical schools were able to send a 5 student delegation to attend this weekend, funded generously by the OMA. Western had a fair amount of interest and we were able to send Colin Adams, Matt Lubanovic, and Sameer Shivji from the class of 2015, and Mathias Fricot and James Ahlin from the class of 2016 to the weekend. Now aside from the fact that it was bit of an all boys’ club, our representatives were a model delegation, being very engaged, contributing to discussion, and networking almost like they came from the Ivey School of Business.  Following the weekend I wanted to gather our group together and see what their thoughts were on the whole experience. We had a virtual debrief using the wonders of the internet and each student contributed his thoughts what had happened. Below is a collection of the responses that we’d like to share with you all.

What part, if any, did you take away the most insight from this weekend. 

Colin:  I think the part which provided the most insight was probably the lobby day itself. It’s always great to interact with politicians, and the attitude they displayed to our proposal was positive and encouraging, demonstrating that as student advocates we can potentially elicit real change from the political system. The OMA/OMSA did a great job in recruiting our speakers, which included the Hon. Deb Matthews, Christine Elliot, and France Gélinas, the Minister of Health and Long Term Care, and her respective critics from the PC and NDP parties. 

I also enjoyed meeting with my fellow delegates. Many had great ideas for their schools, and it was refreshing to learn more about what’s going on at each school, and how their students are pushing for change. I exchanged contact information with several people who were working on projects similar to my own, which will hopefully prove mutually beneficial for the future. It was great to meet some new friends and hear some interesting new perspectives on medicine, health care, and life in general.

How will you apply the experiences you’ve gained during this weekend to your future training?

Mathias: The skills I developed at the leadership summit transcend every aspect of life, not just decision making in medicine. Specifically, I’m looking at entering the innovation challenge that they told us about (assuming this NGO gets back to me). Trying to be less of a follower and more of a leader. The experience at Lobby Day was interesting – I have a better understanding of what goes on in the world of politics. Kind of a removal of the rose coloured glasses. I was lucky enough to meet my own MPP before the day really kicked off, and since he wasn’t one of the ones we were talking to I got to cast the net of our Ask a little farther than it would have been. 

What really stood out was that when your talking about something, even if it is healthcare, you really have to drive home what makes it important for the region the MPP represents specifically. You could see in the legislature that most MPPs were focused when a topic relating to their region came up, but when something specific to a region (like London and the chemotherapy drugs) was being discussed the MPPs unaffected were indifferent. You need to frame everything into the specifics of the person your talking to otherwise the best idea in the world might be passed by.
Was there anything surprising or new that you learned during either the Leadership Summit or the Lobby Day?
Matthew: I learned the differences between provincial and federal politics, especially considering more health care decisions get made at the provincial level.  Also, how ones experiences in clinical medicine can lead to activism and eventually becoming involved in politics formally and how you can use your motivations/inspirations from clinical practice to produce change by working as an elected official.I learned a lot more at the leadership day, in particular how to effectively manage small teams.  In addition, hearing the perspectives of different speakers in how they were able to use innovation and leadership skills to affect change even on a small scale by see unmet needs in their clinical practices.  Showed me that you dont have to leave clinical medicine behind, leadership and innovative endeavors can serve to compliment your clinical work not take away from it.  Also, that many of the same skills needed to be an effective physician can also make you an effective leader.
Why do you think additional advocacy and leadership training is important for medical students.
James: As medical students we sometimes tend to focus on “real medicine” or the part of the
curriculum that focuses heavily on the pathophysiology and clinical signs and symptoms of
disease. Though the curriculum now reflects the Canmed’s role of advocate it only scratches
the surface of what it means to be a physician leader. I believe this is recognized both by
administration and students alike as seen by the push and willingness to become part of
the many extracurricular initiatives at Schulich. These opportunities provide practical as well
as formal leadership experience in the real world. Initiatives such as the OMSA
Lobby/Leadership day give students the chance to both learn about leadership while
actually acting as advocates. These experiences allow us to see that advocacy is not just
an abstract principle talked about in small group, but something that we do every day at
various levels.
How do you plan to continue developing your advocacy training afterwards?

Sameer: Lobby day was a fantastic learning experience for me, and I hope to use it as a springboard to making advocacy a part of my future career. I think there are a number of different ways I can continue to develop my advocacy and leadership skills, such as continuing to foster long term connections and trying to identify ways in which we could do things differently.  Most of all, though, leadership weekend taught me that there is no “right way” to be an advocate. We heard many inspiring stories of physician leaders, each story detailing a very different journey. The one common thread amongst them all, however, was that these individuals seized the opportunities they were presented with. I think too often, especially as medical students, we fall into the trap of self doubt, allowing ourselves to pass up chances to get involved because we feel we don’t have the time, don’t have the skills, or don’t feel as if we can make a difference. If leadership weekend taught me anything, its that in order to be a successful advocate, you need to take advantage of every opportunity you see because you never know where it might lead. This is why I will attempt to build on the successes of this weekend by getting involved as much as possible; that, I think, is the best training of all.

As you can see, this short weekend shone quite a bit of light into areas of medical education that are not wholly addressed in the classroom. The physicians who came to speak to our groups were great role models in learning leadership and innovation “on the fly” – without formal training; yet, they were all successful innovators, leaders, and clinicians. A common theme that was expressed by these speakers was that this chance to come out to network, to meet and form ‘brain trusts’, and to learn such skills, in a formal and “risk free” environment is an opportunity they would have relished at. I feel, much like Sameer expressed, we should take advantage of every opportunity presented. I hope that by sharing these reflections, I can spark even greater interest and curiousity among Schulich students to seek such opportunities (such as when the Leadership Summit and Lobby Days rolls around in 2014).
That’s all from me for now.
Lobby day attendees
Annual lobby day attendees