As an anesthesiologist in a busy northern Alberta hospital, Alika Lafontaine’s skilled world is outlined by high-pressure conditions.
However even he was not ready for the extent of depth he can be taking up as the brand new president of the Canadian Medical Affiliation, one of many largest and most influential well being advocacy organizations within the nation.
“I used to be overly bold with how balanced my life can be over the subsequent 12 months,” mentioned Dr. Lafontaine, who started his year-long time period in August by travelling the nation to satisfy with different well being care leaders and professionals.
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At age 40, Dr. Lafontaine – a father to 4 children between ages eight and 14 – is the youngest president within the CMA’s 155-year historical past. Of Métis, Cree, Anishinaabe and Pacific Islander ancestry, he’s additionally the group’s first Indigenous chief.
Dr. Lafontaine’s mission as he takes the reins is to persuade political leaders and policymakers that now’s the time to make actual, substantive adjustments to programs which have been floundering for many years.
The stakes couldn’t be greater. Previously few months, wait instances at emergency rooms throughout the nation have set new data. Earlier this month, an aged affected person died from an obvious aortic tear in a Quebec ER after ready 16 hours with out being seen by a physician. And a rural hospital in Chesley, Ont., introduced its emergency room shall be closed till December because of vital employees shortages. Well being care staff are reporting unprecedented ranges of exhaustion, with many leaving the career. And because the variety of medical residents selecting household medication is at its decrease level within the nation’s historical past, thousands and thousands of Canadians can’t discover a household physician and don’t have any entry to primary medical care exterior of an emergency room or walk-in clinic.
Since taking up as head of the CMA, Dr. Lafontaine has been chatting with well being ministers and different elected officers, medical professionals and sufferers about his and the CMA’s imaginative and prescient for change – primarily, that Canadian leaders would focus much less on lowering upfront well being prices and extra on affected person outcomes and the way greatest to attain them, resembling by investing in family-care suppliers.
Dr. Lafontaine has a popularity for being pleasant and diplomatic, however he usually pushes again on flawed narratives, resembling the concept that Canada wants to seek out revolutionary options for its well being disaster. In case you spend even a couple of minutes on the subject with him, he’ll remind you that the nation’s present well being care issues date again many years and that the options have been clear for simply as lengthy.
His instant predecessor, Katharine Good, made headlines earlier this yr when she proclaimed that the nation’s well being care system had collapsed. And Dr. Lafontaine is following in these footsteps, publicly talking in regards to the full lack of imaginative and prescient and absence of political will that introduced well being care in Canada to its knees. He’s pissed off, as an example, that Canada doesn’t but have a nationwide licensure for physicians, which might permit them to simply work wherever within the nation and instantly deal with present shortages.
“There’s stuff at excessive ranges we talked about for years. If we did it, it will rework the way in which the system works,” Dr. Lafontaine mentioned. “We’ve these conversations after which the crises finish and we transfer on.”
He’s equally frank in regards to the human sources scarcity that’s creating chaos at establishments throughout the nation. As an alternative of addressing the problem, he mentioned, hospitals have allowed well being professionals to cowl the shortfall by working too many shifts, past the purpose of exhaustion, creating probably unsafe circumstances. “Now the system is breaking as a result of individuals have gotten to the purpose the place they’re saying ‘I’m simply going to stroll away.’”
However he’s additionally longing for the long run. On the subject of balancing well being care prices in contrast with well being care outcomes, he thinks a shift towards the latter is just not solely doable, however is one of the simplest ways to make sure sufferers obtain high-quality care that can even lower your expenses over the long run.
Past the work that he does on the CMA, Dr. Lafontaine additionally hopes that, as somebody who had a tough expertise at college, he is usually a function mannequin to younger individuals equally struggling who’re fascinated about pursuing the medical career.
Although he completed highschool at 16, accomplished his first college diploma by age 19, and took the medical faculty entrance examination on a dare – and handed – he had lengthy struggled with self-confidence. When he was rising up in Regina, he was informed that he had a studying incapacity that will put highschool commencement out of attain.
“I, for a really, very very long time, felt damaged because of the experiences I had as a child – being informed you’ll by no means end highschool or go to school as a result of you’ve gotten these studying challenges,” Dr. Lafontaine mentioned.
He credit his household’s assist for serving to him to excel in his research. His mom selected to house faculty him beginning in Grade 7, an association that continued on and off by highschool. Over time, it turned clear that he was simply as succesful as some other child, and maybe extra so.
“I ended up having a shift that was a bit surreal,” Dr. Lafontaine mentioned. “I went from being labelled as somebody who would by no means obtain something to somebody being labelled as gifted.”
Having this data nonetheless didn’t erase the sense he had that he wasn’t going to make it. Throughout his undergrad years on the College of Regina, and on the College of Saskatchewan medical faculty, he was usually one of many solely Indigenous faces within the room – making it tough for him to really feel he belonged. Dr. Lafontaine mentioned the primary few weeks of medical faculty specifically have been so overwhelming and difficult he almost gave up. He recalled one occasion in these early days when he requested a professor for additional assist along with his workload and was disregarded.
“I bear in mind in that second strolling out and pondering to myself, ‘Why am I right here? I don’t have household right here, I don’t slot in with the opposite children who’re right here, I ought to simply go. Who am I kidding?’”
In the future that first yr, he bumped into Val Arnault-Pelletier, the varsity’s Indigenous co-ordinator, on campus – an opportunity encounter that will change all the things.
“I simply broke all the way down to her and informed her all the things that I used to be feeling,” recollects Dr. Lafontaine.
She stepped in, arranging conferences for Dr. Lafontaine with William Albritton, the dean of the medical faculty, and supporting him herself to proceed his research. Dr. Lafontaine recollects stopping by Ms. Arnault-Pelletier or Dr. Albritton’s workplace any day of the week and them all the time making time for him. And when he got here up with a technique for recruiting extra Indigenous college students into residency coaching, they each helped him put it into place.
“Her and Invoice are the the reason why I received by med faculty, to be sincere,” he mentioned.
Now, he’s hoping he might be an inspiration himself. “I actually hope for teenagers who’re enthusiastic about medication that they see me and so they say to themselves, ‘If he did it, I might do it, too.’”
Ms. Arnault-Pelletier mentioned she’s not stunned to see Dr. Lafontaine tackle the function of CMA president, because it was clear throughout his scholar days he was a pure chief and infrequently took on mentoring positions. Past that, he additionally embraces the core values of Indigenous teachings, together with honesty, knowledge and bravado, she mentioned. “I might see that he had such a kindness about him.”
Whereas Saskatchewan will all the time be house for Dr. Lafontaine – his mother and father nonetheless stay in the home the place he grew up in Regina – he now lives in Grande Prairie, a metropolis of about 67,000 in northwest Alberta, along with his spouse and kids.
Dr. Lafontaine mentioned turning into head of the CMA was by no means in his long-term plan. However that very similar to different key moments in his profession, the assist of others led him to imagine he might do it. And he believes that fixing the well being care system means inviting individuals to the desk who traditionally haven’t been given a voice, together with extra Indigenous individuals.
“In case you proceed to have the identical views round resolution making, you’re going to have the identical options,” he mentioned.
Now that he has a seat on the greatest desk, Dr. Lafontaine is dedicated to dismantling the established order on the subject of well being, saying that the time has come for arduous conversations and actual change.
“You possibly can’t ignore large issues,” Dr. Lafontaine mentioned. “You must stroll by them.”