The CMPA Council experience – Speaking with councillors Bryan Callaghan and Jeanne McNeill

Originally published September 2016

Two veteran CMPA Council members, Bryan Callaghan from Ottawa and Jeanne McNeill from Moncton, have just completed their final terms. CMPA Perspective spoke with them about their experience.

Bryan, you’ve been a member of CMPA Council since 1993. What motivated you to run?

I had been invited to be an outside expert on some files for provincial legal counsel and found it to be fascinating work. Around 1993, I was asked by Dr. Robert Robson if I would consider becoming a councillor. The CMPA was thinking that adding a plastic surgeon might bring some useful perspective to informed consent issues. In those days, plastic surgery had a track record of high frequency cases needing assistance. The combination of plastic surgery as a specialty needing assistance and my own interest in the CMPA was what motivated me.

Jeanne, you became a member of CMPA Council in 2007. Why did you first decide to run?

Peter Fraser, who was a past president and a councillor from New Brunswick, approached me to see if I might consider serving after his term was finished. Knowing the CMPA’s mission to protect physicians, I felt this would be a good fit for me.

What were you hoping to achieve when you joined council?

Bryan: My objective coming in was to try to share risk information with my specialty to help improve their risk position. My role fortunately became a bit of an ambassador back to my specialty to help share professional liability information that would make their life better. I felt this was a really great opportunity, and I think it was appreciated by my specialty.

Jeanne: I just wanted to contribute as best I could to helping members, to make sure their interests were well represented, and to contribute my talents, if possible, to anything that might be needed.

What did you think the experience of serving on council would be like? How did it surprise you?

Bryan: I had no idea what it would be like. I’ll tell you honestly. I had absolutely no clue. Unlike many councillors who had prior experience on their provincial medical association, my experience had been hospital based. I had no pre-conceived ideas as to what council would be like. For me it was very much a discovery process. But it was a great training ground for me. I learned much more than I brought.

Jeanne: I’d been fairly involved in medical politics for most of my career, so I felt I was fairly well prepared for the types of meetings and the time commitment. What surprised me, to some extent, was the complete dedication and passion of the councillors to do everything they could for members across Canada. I never noticed any partisan politics, shall we say. When people spoke to an issue at council, they were really trying to keep in mind all members across Canada, regardless of their areas of practice or types of practice.

What, in your opinion, is the value of being a member of council?

Bryan: The value for me was learning the behind the scenes operations of an organization that is so vital to Canadian doctors: How is it managed? How is it governed? These are things one cannot learn by just reading your monthly newsletter or by seeing your colleagues and chatting. You can only learn it when you’re here. I think a councillor experience here…it’s just invaluable. I don’t think there’s anything quite so unique, in terms of a physician who trains in medicine getting a behind-the-scenes look and a chance to be hands-on in the governance of a big organization like this one. I think it’s just an extraordinary opportunity.

The CMPA has over 350 employees. We manage a significant reserve for claims and assets, so there’s the business side, and there’s the clinical, safe medical care side also. It’s just fascinating work in this organization. The opportunity to have a governance role in that, I think, is just invaluable.

Jeanne: I think the value in being a member of council is that it makes you work really hard to do your best for all the members, to take that honour of being chosen and that commitment to a deeper level. I think it allows you to realize that as a physician and as a councillor, you have something special to offer and your voice is important.

Again, I think the professionalism of the organization and the integrity of the organization…it’s really exciting to be involved and to see what goes on and all the work that needs to go into allowing physicians to have the protection they need to practice medicine to the best of their ability and to encourage them to practice to the best of their ability. It’s exciting times, and I’m sad to be leaving.

How did being a member of council benefit you personally?

Bryan: I’m most proud of the educational opportunities that the CMPA afforded me. I was permitted to share many, many presentations with my specialty at annual meetings and educational forums, so I was able to be the bearer, the messenger, of our risk management progress. And over this time – not that I take any responsibility or credit -- my specialty (plastic surgery) has dropped from the highest level of frequency to one of the more modest ones. I think this is a credit to the entire organization’s risk management and education efforts, and I was allowed to be a part of that. So I’m most proud of achieving some performance improvement in my specialty over the years.

Jeanne: I think people in your local area see you as a resource. I’ve had many phone calls and conversations over the last several years with colleagues interested in what I thought, how they could do things differently, what the latest information from the CMPA was. I was able to share that information with them and hopefully give information that made their practice a little easier, which was very rewarding.

Secondly, I hope the information I learned personally made me a better physician. I know interacting with the caliber of the physicians on council and the caliber of the staff at CMPA encouraged me to be a better person and physician.

If you had to tell other members about the benefits of being a member of CMPA Council, what would you tell them that you wish you had known?

Jeanne: I wish I had known how great it was because I would have signed up 15 years ago. I had a wonderful experience. I would encourage other physicians who are interested in working with and contributing in a meaningful way to a superior medical organization working on behalf of physicians and the safety of healthcare in Canada to consider standing for election to council.

Bryan: First of all, that you can make a difference. I think they don’t believe that one voice could have any significant input into a big, structured organization in existence for over 100 years. How could a physician coming on council have any significant input into that? In fact, that could not be more untrue because when you are on council you are one of 30 voices at the governance side of this organization and you have significant opportunity to have input.