moved that Bill S-248, an act respecting national physicians’ day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs for seconding this bill.
It is a pleasure to stand here to speak to a very simple, short, one-line bill, which says that we would like to name May 1 as “national physicians' day”. Why would it be the first of May? It is because May 1 was the birth of the first female physician, in the 1800s. She graduated in New York and came to live here because she was a Canadian woman from Toronto. Her name was Dr. Emily Stowe. She was not able to study here, so she had to go to New York to get her medical degree. Therefore, the medical profession would like her birthday to be the day that we celebrate national physicians' day.
Not only did Dr. Emily Stowe come back here to become a very prominent suffragette, but she also helped to create what we now call the Women’s College Hospital, so that women, unlike herself, could now study in Canada. That is one of the reasons we are naming it national physicians' day on May 1, because of Emily Stowe.
However, I want to talk about why there should be a physicians' day. I am a physician. I studied medicine in Dublin, Ireland. I came to live here in Canada. I practised medicine for 23 years, delivering over 800 babies. That was a remarkably wondrous time in my career, because I loved delivering babies. I loved getting up at two o'clock in the morning and rushing out to deliver a baby. It was always a great feeling, but sometimes it was not.
Sometimes babies were born with problems. That was really hard, after working with a mother for nine months, to get to the point of knowing what she was facing with the birth of her child. Physicians do that every day. They see that people get sick. Sometimes we cannot help people. All in all, that is how physicians spend their days. I do not think there is anybody in this place who has not at some time or another seen a physician.
For me, being a physician was a remarkable time in my life. However, I want to point out how many physicians not only look after patients to try to prevent them from getting sick, but also look after patients when they are dying or going through difficulties with Alzheimer's disease. That is what physicians do.
There are still physicians in this country who are making house calls. There are about a million house calls a day in this country made by physicians. It was something that I liked to do, because I got to visit my patient's house. I saw the way that they lived, and it helped me to understand better what was going on in their lives.
As physicians, we are not only involved in healing the sick, helping people to get better and preventing people from getting ill, but advocacy is a major thing for physicians. When I was a member of the British Columbia medical association, we worked really hard to get infant seat restraints. We pulled all kinds of stunts to get the government of British Columbia to enforce them. In fact, we had a poster that said, “Did you belt your kid today?”, and there was a Canadian seatbelt sitting in his or her little chair. We also worked hard to get people to wear bicycle helmets. We were again trying to make people take notice. There was someone riding a bicycle with a watermelon that fell off and splattered, and it said, “You have to wear a helmet. Protect your melon.”
There are all kinds of things that one had to do as a physician to move that agenda forward, to try to speak for patients. Many times patients are vulnerable and do not have a voice to speak for themselves. This, for me, is the essence of being a physician. It is not just studying for seven years and then doing two years of residency and finally practising medicine. I knew all about the science of medicine, but it is my patients who taught me the art of medicine. It is my patients who helped me to understand what being a physician was really about. It is going to bat for your patients and trying to get the best for them. Considering the best interests of your patients is one of the things that we believe in as physicians.
Then, of course, my patients also taught me. Patients taught me not to judge them but rather to help and do my best for them, regardless of my religious or moral beliefs. It was not about that; it was about doing the best for my patients. It was to support them through all of their decision-making to help make their lives better.
As a family doctor, it was about getting to know the patient's family. It was about making sure that we knew that the family itself was at the heart of what made the patient tick, what made the patient who he or she was. Sometimes when we were trying to deal with a patient's ailment, we had to deal with the family. We had to look at the family dynamics. We had to do the kind of stuff that we never think physicians have to do.
That is why I want to talk about some physicians I know very well in British Columbia, who have put themselves on the line. They do not get paid for it, but they push hard. I want to talk about Dr. Julio Montaner, from the Downtown Eastside, where he has worked with people who are addicted, who have overdosed and who have HIV-AIDS or hepatitis C. All of those people that the world tends to forget or are judgmental about, he has put himself on the line for, pushing for those things.
Dr. Jerilynn Prior, who is a friend of mine and a colleague, at one time pushed for women to take folic acid so that their children would not be born with spinal injuries. Today, she is pushing for dying with dignity, as she herself is in a wheelchair with an intractable disease.
I could go on and on about all of the things that physicians do other than just looking at us when we are sick.
I know how many funerals I have attended as a physician, how many births and many marriages. I know how many women have called me in the middle of the night because they were scared. They were locked in their bathroom because their husband was outside screaming at them with a baseball bat because he had come home after drinking too much. Sometimes, I have found them places to keep them safe.
For me, this is what a physician is about. Therefore, we are asking for everyone in this House to support the concept that on one day in the year we celebrate physicians for the work they do, their integration into our families and lives, and to ensure that this country has physicians. Family physicians take care of about three-quarters of patients and their needs.
We talk about gender equality a lot in this House. Two-thirds of family physicians are women. We now see them enrolling in university to study medicine and graduating across the board as specialists and the like. In fact, we now have about 45% of women who are physicians. Therefore, we have come full circle, in talking about how being a physician is really important, how many of us depend on physicians when we are helpless or in need and the trust that we put in physicians. Being a doctor is one of the most-trusted professions in the world. I think that this tells of the relationship we want to celebrate when we talk about physicians day on May 1.
Therefore, I hope I can get support from this whole House to designate May 1—and perhaps, because I know it is just around the corner, this coming May 1—as the day we stand in this House to declare the very first national physicians' day.