Pembroke FP becomes College President
Dr. Judith Plante’s collaborative approach to change
Dr. Judith Plante, CPSO President for 2021, came to her role at the College in a slightly unconventional way: she was an attendee at our annual Future Leaders’ Day event back in 2014. Future Leaders’ Day is the College’s recruitment drive to engage physician leaders of Ontario in our regulatory work. Dr. Plante, who is a family physician from Pembroke, arrived not knowing very much about it or the College, but was immediately impressed by the breadth of work encompassed in medical regulation. “I had no idea how much background work was done at the College in developing policy and guiding the profession. I only knew that CPSO gave licenses and dealt with complaints. It was a real eye opener,” she says. She credits this introductory day with igniting her interest in getting involved.
It was past CPSO President Dr. Marc Gabel, whom she met at Future Leaders’ Day, who talked Dr. Plante into running for Council. “He said to me, ‘If you are interested, do it. Your district is up for election this coming year.’ So she ran in an election for the first time in her life. “There were so many challenging issues going on at the time,” she says. “Conscientious objection was a big topic, and the larger discussions on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) were just starting. I found the CPSO staff very professional, very well prepared, and very passionate about supporting our work on these issues.”
Since then, Dr. Plante has been a key member of several CPSO committees: Registration, of which she is the Chair; the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC); and, through her role on our Executive Committee, Finance & Audit and Governance. She also chaired the working group on our recently revised Medical Records Documentation and Medical Records Management policies.
These experiences will no doubt serve her well as President. “She is committed to the work that we do at the CPSO and that was evident when working with her on the Medical Records policies,” says Tanya Terzis, a policy analyst who was part of the Medical Records working group with Dr. Plante. “She has a great understanding of the issues impacting patients and the profession, and is always very thoughtful when considering policy issues. She was also really good at building consensus, and very collegial and collaborative with the other members of the working group.”
Samantha Tulipano, CPSO Director of Registration and Membership Services, feels the same way. She has seen first-hand Dr. Plante’s leadership skills — and her commitment to our mandate of protecting the public trust — in action on the College’s Registration Committee. “She is passionate and understands the mandate of the committee, which is to bring in qualified professionals,” Ms. Tulipano says. “Ultimately, we’re responsible for putting qualified doctors into practice, and she has a unique perspective, especially as a family physician from a rural community, that helps her understand the challenges of doing that.”
We spoke to Dr. Plante in the lead-up to the December meeting of CPSO Council where she became President. She also recorded a video 🎥 answering some questions about her upcoming term.
How did you first become interested in a career in medicine, and how did you come to pick family medicine as your specialty?
I guess it started with a combination of high school science classes and various lifeguarding jobs that I had as a teen. I really enjoyed the First Aid and CPR courses, and these piqued my interest in human biology. I did an undergraduate degree in biology before medical school, and I was looking at specializing in either family medicine or OBGYN. The appeal of OBGYN was, for me, the pregnancy and delivery care, not the surgery. Once I learned that I could do obstetrics as a family doctor, and then continue to see the baby and mother afterwards, I knew what I wanted to do. Family medicine has the advantage that you play a role in a patient’s health over many years, not just at certain points in their life. That held a lot of appeal for me.
You stepped back from your family practice in Pembroke to do more work with the College. What was it like making that decision?
It was too much to do both and still have a family life, and the ducks landed in a row at just the right time. I was looking to get more involved in the ‘big picture’/policy side of our profession. There was a new graduate physician just starting his career in the Ottawa Valley. I knew him well and I was very confident in him taking over my practice. If I don’t do this now, I thought, I may not have the opportunity next year. Things very much lined up and it worked out for my patients, so it was a win for everybody.
Tell us about your work on College committees and the perspective they’ve brought you.
I started on ICRC, which reviews letters of serious concern that arrive at the College. Simple misunderstandings may be withdrawn and straightforward, low risk concerns are often resolved by staff; however, serious concerns are reviewed by the Committee. The breadth of the concerns is wide and the challenge is trying to understand the complainant’s concerns and unmet expectations, as well as taking into account the physician’s version of events. So many of the complaints we see come down to the same key concepts — communications, rapport, and meeting patients where they are. You look at these cases and think, if only the doctor had taken just five more minutes to sit down with the patient and listen, this complaint never would have happened. Another ICRC challenge is that sometimes things don’t go well, but it doesn’t mean the doctor did anything wrong. Explaining this to the patient or family can be very difficult, but is something we strive to do.
The Registration Committee is interesting in a whole different way. We review license applications from any doctor who doesn’t immediately fit the typical North American training model. This committee sees the enormous diversity that is at the foundation of our profession in this province, and is committed to assessing and licensing all candidates that are qualified to work here.
You were the chair of the working group on our new Medical Records policies. How did that work shape your view of regulation?
Having seen in ICRC the breadth of charting — from the gold standard with so much detail, to templated charts with almost nothing filled out — it reinforced how important charting really is. Accurate and complete charting is critical to patient safety and to good patient care. We needed to clean up the policy and clarify it, and make sure doctors could understand what the expectations are.
Coming into your year as President, what do you see as the top priorities for medical regulation in Ontario?
COVID-19 has changed things in unprecedented ways — I don’t know how else to describe it. Look how quickly we switched over to providing so much more care through telemedicine. There will have to be a new balance between in-person and virtual care as we exit the pandemic. My goal is to help the College make sure the guidance to the profession is there, that it’s not so much regulation that it’s burdensome, but that there’s enough there to be meaningful. We aren’t ever going to be the same as “pre-COVID”, but in the end, it’s still about good care — whether it’s over a computer screen or in person, how you chart and how you treat the patient still needs to meet the standard.
We also have some big new initiatives in Quality Improvement that have started. Finishing the roll out of these programs to the whole membership is a goal for this year.
I am by nature a cautious individual and see my role as helping to guide the many improvement projects that are underway at the College. I am not planning to champion any huge new changes!
CPSO has undergone a lot of change over the last two to three years. What is your impression of all this transformation?
The whole concept of right-touch regulation has really resonated with me. Using the tools of regulation with a force that is balanced with the issue makes so much sense and has clearly struck a chord with the profession. The huge increase in applications from the membership for positions on Council and committees illustrates this. We have made some real efforts to be more approachable to patients as well through an easier to navigate website and quicker response times from our Inquiries department. Alternative Dispute Resolution is also speaking to that. There used to be one process when it came to complaints, but (CPSO Registrar) Nancy Whitmore asked: Why? Why does there have to be one process? She gave us permission to stop doing something just because that’s the way we’ve always done it. She gave us permission to ask: is there a better way? And that’s a positive way to look at change.