September 4, 2020: Message from the Department Head

September 4, 2020: A message from Dr. Anita Palepu, Head, Department of Medicine, UBC

This is a special week for me as it marks my first anniversary as Department Head. As I reflect the events over the past year, I cannot help but realize how my perception of time has become distorted: it felt like an accordion with time being expanded and compressed in sequence. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed every facet of our professional and personal lives that will leave its legacy in the years to come. Clinically, our interaction with patients and colleagues have had to change. Our work flow has been disrupted. Procedures and surgeries had to abruptly shut down. Our clinical burden skyrocketed. And the reopening is no simple task. Our balancing act continues. Education of our students and residents has become layered with the physical distancing and Zooming in the web space has replaced our togetherness at rounds and meetings. Nearly all our research had been suddenly halted and the process of restart is equally testing of our confidence and patience. The delays, the financial loss, the adverse impact on productivity are substantial and contribute to our lack of control and uncertainty. At a personal level, we all worry about being the vectors for our families. We worry about our children as they return to school. We stress over how we can see our families safely.

When I zoom out (pardon the pun), I see amazing faculty who have risen to the myriad challenges due to COVID-19. The attention and care you provided to patients throughout the province were impressive as was the rapid and dramatic shift to virtual care. Undoubtedly, this will be integrated into future healthcare delivery and hopefully improve access to care for patients. Zooming in, I have also observed that some faculty are feeling the strain of the chronic low-level stress caused by the pandemic. It is like they are fraying, the thread is caught and slowly unravelling. We may cope by maintaining a narrow focus on our priorities to exert our own sense of control; we may not notice another’s distress. COVID-19 has laid bare the many fault-lines in our society and the same can be said for teams and organizations. It is critical that we address them and work through conflicts to get to a better place. This involves being open to listen to other perspectives and also to have humility. I have been thinking about humility a lot lately. A dictionary definition is: “modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.” I have operationalized it as being open to learn. Despite our accomplishments and expertise, we all have blind spots. We need to support one another especially as we anticipate the potential increase in patients with COVID requiring hospital admission this Fall and Winter.

Academic medicine is typically viewed as a competitive endeavour in order to achieve excellence. Although competition can be healthy, collaboration has emerged as a highly effective strategy in addressing the many challenges we face in patient care, education and more recently – research. The number of excellent initiatives by Department members is remarkable, particularly during these extraordinary times and their successes reflect new collaborations that otherwise would not have been possible. The bonds we have built during these tough times will carry us through challenges and hardship. Collectively, we will emerge stronger as a department, as a faculty, as a university.

In May 2019, when I presented my vision for the Department, I shared my personal leadership vision was gratitude. I am still committed to being the leader who sees the gifts in others that they may not recognize in themselves and help them realize their best selves in the work we do together. The values of transparency, accountability, organizational integrity, and inclusiveness underpin the way we move forward. I had hoped to meet more members face-to-face in my first year, especially at the distributed sites. Hopefully, that will become possible in 2021.

We will create a separate year in review Departmental communication in terms of changes and progress on initiatives. I also want to thank my excellent administrative team for their expertise, and the Associate Heads for their professionalism and support during my first year.

I wish you all a great Labour Day weekend and know that I am truly grateful for your contributions.


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