Tomorrow I am heading west for the ASM in Perth. Amazingly (and scarily), this marks one year for me in the role of ACEM President.
And what a year it has been – a busy, productive and, at times, stressful and exhausting year. But, a couple of weeks ago, on a trip to Brisbane, I sat with a group of trainees and I was reminded of why I am so motivated to be part of efforts to increase diversity on College governance structures.
I heard the story of an advanced trainee, a new mum who had returned to full-time work, starting to prepare for the Fellowship examination. She was in a department with a great culture and supportive leaders but not enough staff to do the job, to provide the level of care the community deserves from Australia’s health care system. She felt torn between her work, her family, juggling all she had to do. An understaffed emergency department with a doctor who felt passionate about doing her job and helping her colleagues, ... and it ends in tears.
We have to do more to ensure our emergency departments are safe; for patients and our staff, and to change and improve many of the system factors that make our work so much harder than it should be. It is challenging enough without having to battle for resources, staff, and system change.
And the College has a crucial role to play.
It is widely recognised that more diverse groups make better decisions. We need to ensure the diversity of our emergency physicians reflects the diversity of our communities. This includes looking at who is on the range of ACEM entities that enables the College to do its work – from the ACEM Board to various committees, subcommittees and other groups - in order to optimally inform strategic priorities and conduct College activities.
Our Diversity in College Governance Position Paper, released today, says feedback to the College makes it clear that the volume of work and the time commitment required in order to be eligible for these entities under the current arrangements is seen as a barrier for FACEMs working part-time and/or women with family responsibilities; this is particularly so for entities such as the ACEM Board.
We must remove some of the barriers, some of the unique challenges our female FACEMs have when aiming to move to leadership roles on ACEM entities and, in particular, the Board.
My conversation with the trainee reminded me of these barriers.
I have often thought that if I had to do what my incredible wife has done (three boys!) and many of our female emergency physicians have faced, I’m not sure that I would have racked up the ‘merit’ to get the opportunity to do this job. Months off work, coming back part-time, sleepless nights, missing opportunities because “you weren’t there”, having to rebuild your clinical skills and confidence; ... I don’t know if I would be in this role.
Women are underrepresented at Board level, and we have had only one female President. This must change.
It is critical we hear your voice, so please provide your feedback on the recommendations in the position paper, which is supported by the Board.
Let’s get this done, and at the ASM I will be available to talk about this and other important work, such as establishing core ACEM values, workforce challenges, rural training, leadership development, and education and training initiatives.
I am looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible in Perth. If you happen to spot me, make sure you say ‘Hi’.
Finally, thanks to all of you who are continuing to keep our emergency departments moving 24/7, 365 days of the year. I’ve said it before, emergency medicine is a team game. Every emergency department I go to, I have felt like part of a very big team which spans our two countries and beyond. Thank you all for that.
We are 35 years young and going from strength to strength!