John Doe, aged 68. Presents with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Type 2 Diabetes and a sense of isolation common to today’s seniors. The patient is one of 4.5 million without a General Practitioner (GP) and has been waiting for the past 6 months to get into a COPD clinic, where he can learn the basics about living with his disease. Prognosis, an even longer wait to see a specialist, and a series of nights spent breathless in the ER waiting to see an overworked and fatigued physician.

Jane Doe, aged 12. Presents with numerous physiological and neurological diseases, and has spent the majority of her life in hospital, waiting for an opening in the too busy schedule of a CT or MRI machine. Patient previously lived within a jurisdictional dispute regarding the payment of her medical services. Prognosis, time spent in a hospital that could be better spent at home, an average surgical wait time of 20 weeks and 5 more hours spent on a bench in the ER than the year before.

Unfortunately, patients like these are commonplace within Canada’s healthcare system. Though often presented as a utopian universal system, the reality that characterizes Canadian health care is one of long wait times for surgeries, doctors, machines and services, too few acute care beds and specialists, and reactive policies when it comes to population health and wellness as a whole. A system like this one, at least as far as I can tell, hurts everyone. Both patients and physicians are caught in an impossible place, and yet we do little to help ease the stress on either party.

This is not to discount the incredible strides that Canadian medicine has made over the last few years, or in the miracles that have been made possible to citizens within our hospitals. Nor is this to ignore the undeniable privilege that comes with living in Canada and experiencing the quality of care that our health-care system is capable of providing.

So why do I question a system as robust and powerful as the Canadian one? As the beliefs about our free, universal, all-access health-care system are perpetuated, we grow complacent. By not questioning the factors that have led to the slow decline of the system’s efficacy, we hurt patients, physicians, nurses and families alike. By not reflecting on ways we can improve best practices and all facets of health care, we won’t ever reform our policies or solve our problems.

And at the same time, by being overly critical of the shortcomings of our health-care system we create a population so jaded that they are unwilling to search for or participate in the many successes that we have already achieved. By becoming apathetic in regards to our own health, we undermine the ability of the system to serve the needs of its patients.

Evidently, the many issues that our health-care system is currently facing are much more complex than they originally appear. Further, as an individual with little experience as a patient and none as a health-care professional, I have the luxury of forming this constructive criticism of our system.

Steps must be taken to resolve these issues, which would ease the stress on the workers of the health sector, the patients within it and the international community of which we have both the drive and the capacity to help. While I do not, nor will I ever, have all of the answers, it’s important to recognize and advocate for the areas in need.

We need to lower the ever-increasing number of Canadians who are without GP’s, by incentivizing medical school graduates to pursue a career in family medicine.

We need to better create community-based systems that support the care of patients when they leave the hospital.

We need to advocate and create opportunities for those Canadians facing barriers to freely accessing health-care initiatives, like language or transportation.

We must support our professionals – nurses, administrators, doctors, and hospital staff – in staying healthy, active members of the health care sector, instead of creating ones who are tired and overworked.  

We must extend the reach of our health-care system into rural and northern communities, where our “free, universal, all-access health care system” is not as much so.

We need support to close the gender gap plaguing some Canadian specialties. In Neurosurgery, for example, there are an underwhelming 32 women and 288 men. In cardiac surgery, the ratio is 38 to 315.

I truly believe that our healthcare system has the capacity to push the envelope of national health care sectors. The Canadian ability to innovate, redesign and problem solve is an important one to uphold, and one that I am increasingly proud of. But if instead we withhold progress for fear of being overly critical, we become overly inactive and jeopardize the future might of the system.

Marika Schenkels, aged 18. Presents with frustration about the state of Canada’s healthcare system. The patient is, however, determined to enact meaningful change within the medical sector, and help advocate for a shift to community-oriented, preventive health-care. Prognosis: a long road ahead (and maybe a little more waiting).

Marika Schenkels

About Marika Schenkels