Second reading of Bill S-248, An Act respecting National Physicians’ Day

Hon. Art Eggleton moved second reading of Bill S-248, An Act respecting National Physicians’ Day.

He said: Your Honour, honourable senators, I am pleased to put forth the National Physicians’ Day Bill, which would declare the first of May each year as National Physicians’ Day.

May 1 is the birthday of one of the most influential individuals in Canadian medical history: Dr. Emily Stowe, the first female to practise medicine in Canada and a founder of our country’s women’s movement.

Dr. Stowe was born in Norwich Township, Oxford County, Ontario, in 1831. She was inspired to pursue a career in medicine following a loved one’s illness from tuberculosis. However, at the time no Canadian college or university would accept a woman, so she was forced to earn her degree in the United States from the New York Medical College for Women.

Following her studies, she went on to open a medical practice in Toronto. During her time in the city she also founded the Toronto Women’s Literary Club, which would quickly evolve into the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association. When the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association was founded in 1889, Stowe would become its first president.

Dr. Stowe set an inspiring example for the generations of physicians who followed. Throughout her career, she pushed boundaries, challenged conventions and paved the way for more women to practise medicine in Canada. And her legacy lives on. Today the medical profession is closer than ever to being gender balanced. Two thirds of family physicians under age 35 are female. We can see the same trend among students and residents as well.

Medical students, residents and practising and retired physicians are an inherent and essential component of our health care system, one of the most cherished social programs. They make a difference in the lives of Canadians every day through their work in hospitals and other care facilities, in communities both urban and rural and in schools and universities.

They not only play a vital role in caring for patients and in ensuring that they get the care they need; they also contribute to medical innovation, helping Canadians live longer, better, healthier lives and ensuring our health care system is effective, efficient and sustainable for the future.

Canadian physicians have contributed to innovations in stem cell research, the discovery of insulin and world-leading medical technologies, to name a few.

On the advocacy front, the Canadian Medical Association, the national organization representing doctors, has played a huge part as well. In 2017, the CMA marked 150 years of advocating for the health of Canadians. It was born in the same year as our Confederation. They advocated for public health during the Spanish influenza, the AIDS epidemic and the SARS outbreak. They were among the first to recognize the devastating effects of cigarettes, issuing their first public health warning in 1954. They founded the Canadian Cancer Society, among many other achievements.

These examples are merely a fraction of what the medical profession in Canada has done and will continue to do to improve the health of all Canadians.

Medicine is extraordinarily rewarding work. The impact physicians have on their patients’ lives is tremendous. But the practice of medicine, like all professions, comes with its own challenges, such as difficulties achieving work-life balance, heavy workloads and increasingly high expectations from their patients.

Amidst these challenges, our country’s doctors are saving lives every day and working hard to give Canadians the best in health and health care. It’s time to officially say thank you for all their contributions and sacrifices on our behalf.

While several provinces — for example, Ontario and Nova Scotia — already hold their own celebrations on May 1, I believe that a national day should be acknowledged to celebrate the Canadian medical profession and its contributions to our history and national identity. This would be in keeping with many other countries who already officially celebrate a doctors’ day, such as Brazil, Cuba, India and the United States.

In short, a national day of recognition in Canada is long overdue. Declaring May 1 National Physicians’ Day would allow patients and all Canadians to show their appreciation for the hard work and dedication of our more than 125,000 physicians, residents and medical students.

I hope you will join with me in my call to recognize and celebrate the medical profession in Canada. Thank you.

(On motion of Senator Maltais, debate adjourned.)