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Supporting an equitable vaccine rollout: Connecting physicians

Over the course of the COVID pandemic, CQuIPS members and alumni have stepped up in significant ways to support their colleagues, patients and communities. In this special series, we highlight the work they’ve done towards a more equitable recovery.

Dr. Beth Gamulka

Dr. Beth Gamulka is a paediatrician at SickKids, EQUIP graduate and current CQuIPS Improvement Fellow. Early in 2021, she received an email from her chief medical officer asking for physicians to add their name to a list if they were interested in supporting vaccine clinics if and when an opportunity arose. Not only did Gamulka add her name, she, along with a colleague, put up her hand to lead the coordination of connecting SickKids physicians with clinics in need of staffing. That’s how she found herself with a list of more than 140 physicians.

“We went hospital to hospital in the GTA to find out if anyone needed physicians to help,” she said. “We urgently got 100 physicians temporary privileges to the Scarborough Health Network to help staff pop-up clinics in hot spots, we shared our list with Women’s College Hospital so our staff could vaccinate at their mobile clinics, and we had people supporting at Unity Health. We also helped staff special clinics for high risk SickKids patients – over two weekends we vaccinated more than 700 youth who had transplants or were on chemotherapy and what was nice was some of them had their own physicians give them the vaccine.”

Gamulka herself has been doing eight to ten vaccine clinics a month, describing the feeling there as “pandemic Disney.”

“These clinics are the happiest places on earth – just the vibe,” she said. “As much as we physicians think we’re all doing such a good thing, when you go to a clinic, you get more out of it than you get in – it’s a wellness exercise.”

In addition to being the lead source of information for many of her fellow physicians, Gamulka said the role brought her into contact with new colleagues.

“I’ve worked at SickKids for many, many years and there were people I’ve never met before suddenly volunteering and exchanging emails,” she said. “It was nice to see people coming together – you go to these clinics and you have a psychiatrist and anesthetist vaccinating together and they probably would have never otherwise run into each other.”

The biweekly Community of Practice Dr. Tara Kiran helped establish has supported family physicians to stay on top of updates during the pandemic

Dr. Tara Kiran has spent the last year and a half supporting family physicians to learn from each other to provide the best possible care during COVID-19. A family doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital, the Fidani Chair of Improvement and Innovation and the Vice Chair of Quality and Innovation at the Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM) at the University of Toronto, and CQuIPS core member, Kiran saw an opportunity early in the pandemic to create a safe space where people could bring questions, share best practices and learn from colleagues.

Under Kiran’s leadership, the DFCM and the Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) collaborated to host a biweekly Community of Practice for family physicians. Sessions feature family doctors from across the province who share their expertise and innovations. Once the COVID-19 vaccination campaign began, the sessions grew in popularity and scope with some now featuring specialists who can help family physicians stay up to date with rapidly evolving evidence. All sessions are recorded and shared on the DCFM quality and innovation website and accredited – even after the fact – so those viewing can get continuing professional development (CPD) credits.

With 600 to 800 family doctors present at each session, the Community of Practice become a safe space for sharing updates and collaborating.

“We’ve gotten so much positive feedback – people turn to it as a source of information so it’s been great to be able to provide that consistency during this chaotic time,” she said. “For me personally, the sessions enable a connection with my colleagues and allow me to constantly keep learning about the latest evidence. I’ve enjoyed putting it together and connecting meaningfully with others.”

Kiran also spearheaded an effort with the DFCM team and OCFP to create a series of e-learning modules for primary care clinicians about COVID vaccination, which include resources on vaccine safety and efficacy, the role of primary care, building vaccine confidence and more. Constantly being updated, the modules are meant to be revisited to locate resources and stay on top of new updates. To date, more than 2,600 healthcare practitioners have registered for access.

“As many smart people have said, if we want to improve practice and outcomes, we have to link it to physician and practitioner learning,” she said. “Linking quality improvement and CPD is something I’ve been working on – even prior to the pandemic – and I think our challenge will be to continue to deliver CPD that simultaneously supports physicians in directly improving practice in a measurable way and is also grounded in patient and community needs.”

Kiran has also taken on a lead role of supporting patients during the pandemic, recognizing that many have been challenged to keep up with rapidly changing guidance. Kiran has been a regular presence in Toronto and provincial media, breaking down how changes affect everyday people and providing a reassuring voice. She’s also helped host patient town halls within her Family Health Team and developed informational handouts about vaccine safety.

“The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of providing clear, direct communication to the public which isn’t something we as physicians are necessarily schooled or incentivized to do,” she said. “I feel like this has been a good opportunity to hone these skills. There’s a huge interest in health and healthcare because of COVID and I think it would be great to leverage that beyond the pandemic.”

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