Frontline Health Dialogues: Vancouver, British Columbia
Over two days in June 2008, a group of 20 doctors, nurses, social workers, academics, policy makers and non-profit leaders from British Columbia came together to probe the question: What will it take to make Canada the best in the world at meeting the healthcare needs of marginalized populations? Held in Vancouver, the Vancouver Dialogue was the first in a series of regional dialogues occurring across Canada, building on the National Roundtable on Frontline Health that took place in Ottawa in June 2007.
Download full report: The Frontline Health Dialogues: Report from the Vancouver Dialogue
Vancouver participants focused on the challenges and innovations of the frontlines of health in British Columbia. It followed the thematic structure that was established at the first dialogue in Ottawa by focusing the discussion around three areas: building a community of practice around frontline health; engaging and educating the next generation of frontline health practitioners; and finding approaches to increasing public awareness and influencing policy.
Participants highlighted several key approaches to consider in efforts aimed at improving frontline healthcare:
a) Integrating across disciplines and regions and between institutions and entities.
b) Drawing from the assets that exist within the community and within the practitioners’ broader sphere of influence.
c) Gaining an understanding of the values and culture of today’s healthcare consumers and tomorrow’s healthcare practitioners.
Part One: Building a community of practice
Frontline work is challenging and isolating. In fact, the Frontline Health Dialogue series is one of the only opportunities for frontline practitioners to get together and talk about what they do.
Developing a community of practice around frontline health is a strategic priority of the Frontline Health program and seen as equally important by the dialogue participants. Their discussion gave rise to possible actions and practical projects that would help flesh out a community of practice around frontline health:
A national conference would generate public awareness and stimulate a national discussion of the field of frontline health.
A review of gray literature (unpublished materials such as working papers, committee reports, newsletters, government documents, etc.) would help practitioners research topics and stay current.
French to English translations would give Anglophone practitioners access to a range of new materials.
A national database of frontline health programs, organizations and practitioners would help organize the development of a community of practice.
Part Two: The next generation
While frontline health is starting to emerge as a more recognized and accepted field of practice, the field is still in its infancy and suffers from a scarcity of practitioners. Participants expressed genuine concern about who would follow in their footsteps and how to reach out to the next generation of frontline practitioners. Some ideas generated by participants were:
Develop an interprofessional elective for inner-city frontline health that is a complement to the elective that the University of British Columbia has created for rural health.
Create mentoring networks that can connect new practitioners with those active in the field.
Incorporate sensitivity and cultural training into curriculum.
Engage youth in the process, collect their ideas.
Maintain a database of opportunities for clerkships, residencies, preceptorships and rotations on the frontlines of health.
Part Three: Facilitating public policy, building public awareness
Creating real change for marginalized populations requires policy work and public awareness campaigns. Some dialogue participants shared their experience with putting frontline health issues on the agenda of municipal politics and generating community support and awareness. Another approach is to communicate the remarkable innovations and achievements found on the frontlines of health. The following are some of the action items suggested by the group:
Draft a collaborative position paper that gives shape to the field of frontline healthcare by sharing success stories and driving policy change.
Build the business case and value proposition for funding frontline health initiatives.
Provide toolkits for media and advocacy work to frontline practitioners and providers
Develop a frontline health newsletter.
Collect online resources and references and make them available to practitioners.
What will it take to make Canada the best in the world at meeting the healthcare needs of marginalized populations? It will take the continued efforts of frontline practitioners and thought-leaders, like the ones around the table in Vancouver, to develop innovative solutions and challenge the mainstream system. And it will take dialogues, such as this one, to get the message out to the masses.
The Vancouver participants were able to add some essential and focusing themes to the discussion begun in Ottawa a year before. Recommendations included:
a) Go forward with a shared voice, realize the power of integration and coordination.
b) Use what you’ve got on hand, the assets of your community, to move projects forward.
c) Know your audience, their values and culture, to develop recruitment and training programs that are relevant and responsive.
The Vancouver dialogue concluded on an energized note, leaving participants eager to continue building the linkages and taking advantage of the synergies discovered throughout the discussions.
Download full report: Frontline Health Dialogues: Report from the Vancouver Dialogue