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Leadership for Where You Are

When physicians hear “leadership”, many think it’s a title for their peers who have been in the system for years and take part in provincial committees; but leadership is being redefined by physicians in all stages of their career. Dr. Dinesh Witharana, a physician in his first five years of family practice, took some time to talk about his leadership journey so far:

As a physician in your first five years of family practice, what pushed you to take on a system leadership role?
As a medical student and resident, I had always told myself to avoid taking on additional responsibility. Medicine has a way of asking more and more of you, and it never seems to stop asking. I wanted to avoid taking on too much leadership and administration responsibilities and end up neglecting my clinical or personal obligations. However, during my first five years of practice, I became increasingly frustrated with gaps/barriers in the medical system for patients and caregivers, including health care professionals, without someone to advocate for them. As a result, I started taking on leadership positions to tear down some of those barriers, and bridge those gaps that I saw in my clinical practice.

What has been your most rewarding experience so far?
I had a palliative patient at home who needed urgent treatment for hypercalcemia. It was incredibly difficult to get her treatment as an outpatient in a reasonable time without sending her through ER. Eventually I was successful, but pushed for change after. Three quick emails and two weeks later, the process changed to allow palliative patients in my community to get urgent treatment as an outpatient quickly and easily. It was incredibly rewarding to see change to a policy so quickly. That change will now improve the quality of life for patients, theirs families, their healthcare providers, and save healthcare dollars all at the same time. Win-Win-Win-Win.

Have you encountered any challenges or barriers in taking on a leadership role? How did you overcome these?
The only barrier to taking on leadership roles is trying to manage that along with clinical practice, teaching, administration duties, and family/personal time. However, leadership roles can light a fire in you that brightens all those other aspects of your life. Your time in leadership roles can improve the quality of your time spent doing activities outside leadership.

What advice would you give to physicians who have considered taking on a leadership role, but are hesitant to do so?
Pick things you are really passionate about. There are so many opportunities for physicians to get engaged, so pick your battles carefully. There is a balance, but taking on leadership responsibilities doesn’t necessarily have to compete with other aspects of your life. Often it can complement and enhance everything else that you do.

About the Author

Dinesh Witharana is a family physician in Spruce Grove who primarily focuses on community primary care of palliative patients. He often brings residents with him to his hospice rounds and home visits. He also enjoys participating on The Provincial Palliative Tumor Group as an Executive Member, the AMA Section of Palliative Care Fee Committee, The ACFP’s First Five Years In Practice Committee, and soon the Core Committee for the Cancer Strategic Clinical Network.

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