December 31, 2020: A Year End Message from the Department Chair

A year-end message from Dr. Anita Palepu, Head, Department of Medicine, UBC


“Hope can be seen out in the garden in a plant that grows from a tiny seed. At first it struggles through the soil, but it persists and continues to go on until it becomes an imposing tree, and then it starts bearing fruit.”  – Robert Smith

2020 has been an extraordinary year filled with experiences that no one could have anticipated. I want to recognize the incredible work of faculty throughout the province. Care was provided to patients despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and the rapid pivot to virtual care was impressive. In particular, we are all grateful for frontline faculty in the ICU, medical wards and clinics who provide exemplary care to patients with COVID-19. In the spring we were concerned about PPE supply, living through the lockdown, facing outbreaks in LTC with the high mortality and rapidly learning about a novel disease. We have been fortunate during both waves in terms of our health care capacity to date relative to other provinces. Many Departmental faculty also contributed to our scientific understanding and were successful in obtaining MSFHR and CIHR funding. Collaborations blossomed across previously siloed groups and proved that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

The Department continued its responsibilities by pivoting all of the committee meetings to virtual including the: Department Executive; Academic Appointments, Recruitment, Promotion and Tenure (AARPT); Recruitment and Resources; Equity; Managers’ Weekly; and Core Internal Medicine Residency Program Committee (RPC). We held our virtual Annual Departmental Awards in June 2020. The Core Internal Medicine program also successfully delivered a Resident Research Day in May 2020 and their Annual Retreat in December 2020 via zoom with excellent attendance and engagement. I had the privilege of interviewing past-UBC Chair of Medicine, Dr. Grady Meneilly, and the residents asked incredibly thoughtful questions about life, leadership and challenges in Medicine.

As a provincial Department, I recognize that it is important to engage with distributed sites and I had hoped to visit in 2020. I wish to invite a faculty member from each of sites to participate in the Departmental Executive committee and have reached out to the Regional Associate Deans to discuss this. Establishing structures to allow us to formally recognize our colleagues who are doing outstanding work in clinical care, education, research and quality improvement throughout the province is a priority. When it is safe, we will organize visits to the Island, Northern and Southern Programs.

The work we had undertaken with the Faculty of Medicine in early 2020 regarding alternative funding plans for faculty working in more research and education intensive hospitals will hopefully begin again in earnest. The Department is reviewing strategies that Divisions have developed to support its academic mission, recognizing that the current structure is limited.

The Department worked very closely with Faculty, VPRI, our local and federal governments to successfully secure funding to support our researchers and their staff during the COVID pandemic when all non-COVID research was shutdown.

Our Data Science in Health initiative has been successful with securing a Strategic Investment Fund grant in late 2019. We successfully delivered a Continuing Professional Development Program in November 2020 and have an ongoing series of sessions in collaboration with the Biomedical Imagining Artificial Intelligence Research Cluster. We have developed a Data Science in Health course for the Experimental Medicine graduate program and the curriculum is undergoing the standard committee process at the Faculty of Medicine prior UBC Senate approval. These initiatives have enhanced the Department’s collaboration with the Data Science Institute, the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Applied Science. We are currently preparing an Emerging Teams grant for the VPRI Grants Catalyzing Research Competition with a focus on developing a meta-data commons.

The Honourable Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s report In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in British Columbia provides 24 recommendations that encompass systems, behaviours and beliefs. “The Recommendations aim to advance an integrated and comprehensive change approach where actions in relation to systems, behaviours and beliefs are purposefully designed in relation to one another, and reflect the fact that to fully achieve the benefits of progress in any one area requires advancements in the others.” The DOM is committed to working with the Faculty of Medicine and the Health Authorities in moving these recommendations forward as well as advancing the forthcoming Faculty of Medicine’s Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A shout out to our faculty who continue to make these fascinating podcasts that I highly recommend. The St. Paul’s Hospital Morning Report podcast focuses on great case discussions and clinical decision making and Beyond the Stethoscope is focused on physician wellness; its most recent episode is an open and insightful conversation with three Internal Medicine residents. I encourage you to give them both a listen as they are educational, entertaining and heartfelt. They can be subscribed from Apple and Spotify.

This past year has taken a toll on many of us and our families. Loss, isolation and uncertainty permeated our lives and have been countered by unprecedented generosity, gratitude and courage. With the vaccine, we will be able to socialize and recognize one another’s achievements this past year. I hope you are able to take time in 2021 to reflect on your priorities and pursue activities that bring meaning to you and those you love.

May we all strive to be our best selves. It is a journey. We will fall but let us lift each other back up.

Wishing you and yours hope and happiness for 2021.

Anita Palepu, MD, MPH, FRCPC, MACP
Professor and Eric W. Hamber Chair
Head, Department of Medicine
University of British Columbia