By Dr. Omesh Syal

Watch the interview (~8 minutes)

After HDC’s Annual General Meeting later this month, one of HDC’s founders and Board Chair, Dr. Shirley Sze, will be stepping down from her role and the organization. Shirley has been a physician champion of clinical professional development, foreseeing early during the adoption of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) how practice data can inform and empower her and her physician colleagues to provide their patients high quality of care.

Shirley was instrumental in the creation of the HDC in 2016, though the merger of the Physician’s Data Collaborative (PDC) and Aggregated Metrics for Clinical Analysis Research and Evaluation (AMCARE). She’s the last founder to leave the HDC Board, putting the organization in the hands of a new generation of leaders.

I have learned a lot as chair of my Division and through the HDC’s organizational and the governance processes. I’m hoping this experience will translate well as I step up to succeed Shirley as Board Chair. She’s played a large part in the organization’s history, and I am honored to have the opportunity to learn from her experience and stories as she finishes her time with HDC.

You are about to complete your last term with the HDC Board, where you served as board chair for the last three years. While you were chair of the HDC Board, what did you find was truly the most rewarding aspect of the role?

Dr. Sze: About 10 years ago, on my travels in New Zealand, I learned of this fantastic idea around using healthcare data. I came back and I was passionate that we should do this in Canada. A decade later, here we are. We have an organization. We have a fabulous board of directors. We have a great operational team that is moving the dial forward. From an idea that my husband refers to as “my mustard seeds,” it’s grown into a big organization. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see it grow.

I think you would agree that HDC is a great organization. From the director’s point of view, all of us have the same vision and passion for how data can naturally guide quality improvement and health care decisions. We are also extremely fortunate that we have a committed and dedicated staff that we have managed to recruit. It’s very rewarding to me to see young folks like you, and our incoming Vice-Chair, Dr. Lawrence Yang, succeeding in addition to the fantastic new board directors that we’re recruiting. I think the organization is in very good stead.

I think we form decisions subconsciously, or consciously in our profession. Since I joined HDC, I hadn’t realized how many like-minded physicians there were. Through your three years of chairing the HDC board, did you find a big shift as you started to grow this organization in the number of physicians, or the number of communities using data and wanting to use HDC Discover?

Dr. Sze: This makes me think of Dr. Tracy Monk’s famous quote, “data is a campfire by which we all gather together.” Dating back 10 years, the use of data gave us information that also tracks our progress. Data gives people a sense of community, whether they’re working together or individually, they’re able to look at the broader data set and see how they compare or fit in. Data gives us the ability to show the public and the government that physicians are stepping up every day to do good work. This gives back pride and joy to the profession, as well as that sense of connecting and belonging.

We’re going to miss your pure positivity, Shirley! But thankfully you hold roles with the UBC continuing professional development, and soon you’ll be joining the HDC Alumni Stewardship so, you’re not going to be far away. Are you looking forward to a different role that will still support HDC to grow?

Dr. Sze: I think the Alumni Stewardship group is a fabulous one because the folks that have been involved in HDC, not just myself, but folks like Drs. Anthon Meyer, Julie Nguyen, Bill Clifford, Bruce Hobson, Tim Troughton, Dan Horvat and Brenna Lynn have all had the same passion when they joined the organization. When we’ve reached out them, they say, ‘Oh, it’ll be great to get together again and chat about opportunities.’ So, they’ve never let go of the concept of what HDC represents for our profession. Engaging all of us gives us some way of channeling that energy on an ongoing basis.

That’s a huge inspiration. The fact that people come and go from this organization, but that HDC will continue to be connected and support quality improvement initiatives shows that we’re not just a data network, but a professional network too. Were there any difficult challenges that you had to deal with and overcome during your time as chair and what did you learn from those experiences?

Dr. Sze: HDC was a merger, half that came from Physician Data Collaborative, which was a grassroots organization and very Division of Family Practice focused. Divisions got the concept of HDC very quickly, and they contributed whatever excess money they had to support us as a grassroots organization. Now that we have the backing of the Family Practice Services Committee (FPSC), it provides a consistent source of revenue, but it is not without its challenges. It is important to get the funders and the influencers of how data is used, to truly understand the value of HDC. That’s an ongoing challenge because leadership at those levels is constantly changing and we have to be mindful to provide knowledge transfer over and over again. I think physicians understand HDC’s role, but we’re at the place where we need funding to make us a provincial, and maybe even a national resource. That’s going to take some doing, but it’s an opportunity as well. Whatever our challenge is, it’s an opportunity to learn and advance.

The change in leadership is a challenge, yet continuing to build those relationships starting from the bottom is probably normal for us, as a grassroots organization. It does require a lot more work, and it allows us to provide our perspective on what we do as an organization.

The thing that resonates with me is grassroots physicians. Without physician leadership and aggregated data, we are just another silo. But together we can provide information to help affect change. Is there any advice that you could give me once I assume your role on how to lead an organization and how to create or maintain relationships?

Dr. Sze: Omesh, as a young physician, within your first 10 years of practice, you’ve assumed so many leadership roles and you’ve done it very well. You chair the meetings very effectively, keeping us on time and on target, summarizing the findings. You already do a lot of things that took me years to learn. You’re an incredibly quick learner and I can understand why Dr. Bill Clifford and Dr. Barend Grobbelaar, two people that are highly respected, recommended you. Our board of directors, as a collective, has many provincial and national connections. You can leverage those board directors to provide you with warm introductions. The key piece for you is to first set some boundaries around what you’re able to do. To leverage your capacity as a leader, you might have to limit some of your clinical work so you can devote some time to be part of FPSC meetings and sit at the key tables. And that’s not going to happen overnight because I know you’re an extremely responsible, caring individual, both in your profession and to your family. It’s going to take some time but by setting the appropriate boundaries, you will do well.

That’s good to hear. It’s always in the back of my mind, that balance. It’s going to take time to slowly build on that. As you step back into the alumni stewardship, what do you see for HDC? Where would you like the next five years to take us as an organization?

Dr. Sze: We’re at a tipping point where we’re starting some projects that will demonstrate our value to a broader audience. I am confident that the organization’s performance will lead to more opportunities. I hope that HDC will become a provincial resource for improving population health and demonstrate physician professionalism in terms of their daily work. In the bigger picture, I’d like to see HDC grow both provincially and nationally into an embedded resource for continuing education, projects, and operational initiatives.

I agree. Thanks so much for the insight. I think we’ve just scratched the surface! I really look forward to hearing your perspective from a different committee now. Looking forward to staying in touch as we progress forward and solidify what you’ve worked on.

Dr. Sze: I believe you have tremendous respect for your elders, so my last bit of advice is to stay humble. I saw this quote recently that I wanted to share.

“Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader, they set out to make a difference. It’s never about the role, always about the goals.”

That’s how you differentiate good leaders from the not so good.

I believe that. Whether it’s myself, you or the board directors, I think we’ve chosen people who want to affect change, and whatever role they assume, that’s a secondary process from that primary goal of creating positive change. Thank you so much Shirley. For everything. I’m excited for what’s ahead.