Fond reflections on Past-President Dr. Françoise Chagnon
Françoise Chagnon, MD, FRCSC, has officially ended her term as Royal College President. She leaves behind an incredible legacy marked in large part by her thoughtful and direct approach to leadership (not to mention her famous dry humour).
“There is no fooling around with [Dr.] Chagnon, when she sets her mind to a task. She can cut to the chase and do it ever so diplomatically,” shared Council member G. Robert LaRoche, MD, FRCSC.
Justin Hall, MD, who served as the resident member of Council from 2017-2019, added “She elevated our conversation, facilitated an inclusive environment, invited contributions from all members, and supported the board to meet our fiduciary, strategic and generative governance roles.”
A number of important initiatives were launched during Dr. Chagnon’s presidency. These include the Royal College’s new strategic plan (and vision), the launch of Competence by Design implementation and new task forces on research, and emerging technologies and artificial intelligence.
“I was impressed by her involvement not just with Council, but in particular with her commitment to the management and organization of the Royal College even before her engagement as President. She came well-qualified with recent experience on the Executive Committee of Council,” said David Allison, MD, FRCPC, who completed his term on Council in February 2019.
Council member John Finley, MDCM, FRCPC, echoed this sentiment saying, “She has a great commitment to excellence in medical education and to the good functioning of the Royal College and its Council. Her calm voice was very appropriate to our deliberations.”
One of Dr. Chagnon’s many achievements was her advocacy and leadership in gaining Council approval to make Indigenous health a mandatory component of postgraduate medical education.
“Her presentations were always thoughtful, with a deep understanding of the issues. She could describe the nuances and complexities without the use of notes,” said Council member J. Mark Walton, MD, FRCSC. He added, “She is an excellent listener and could forge consensus for disparate opinions, often highlighting the art of the compromise.”
Of course, humour also helped.
“Her sense of humor is fantastic,” said Dr. Walton. “Dry, satirical (gentle so) and often brought a nice lightening to discussions, when needed.”
In fact, this light side was on display at the conclusion of Royal College Convocation 2018. Dr. LaRoche, who carried the Royal College mace at the 2018 ceremony, explained: “At the conclusion of the ceremony, she convinced me to grab the mace and go out there with her in our regalia to meet the new Fellows and their families and kids… letting the little ones get their pictures taken with us and to see their eyes that couldn’t get any bigger in amazement!”
Council member Brian Hodges, MD, PhD, FRCPC, also remarked on her warmth. “[She] is a warm and compassionate surgeon who always foregrounds the needs of patients and of clinical colleagues in considering an issue under discussion. She has challenged the Royal College to look into the future.”
On example of looking ahead was Dr. Chagnon’s leadership with Council in defining the relationship between the Royal College and Royal College International, as part of the organization’s strategic planning and governance review.
Dr. Chagnon’s support for international was significant. One example was her recent meeting with the Tri-nation Alliance to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the Royal College, which formalized the partnership’s agreement to collaborate and participate on matters of postgraduate medical education and lifelong learning.
“In thinking of Françoise, my mind immediately goes to surgical metaphors: sharp, incisive, able to cut through confusion,” said M. Ian Bowmer, MDCM, FRCPC, FRCP, her successor in the role of President. “As a leader, she is very inclusive and consults widely. She is good listener and careful to summarize and consolidate opinion. I always appreciated how she included me in discussions in a totally genuine, collaborative fashion.”
Perhaps Bill Tholl, MA, ICD.D, a public Member of Council, summarized it best:
“As I reflect on Dr. Chagnon’s term, I think about the Sherpas of the Himalayas. Those brave leaders who help navigate the ice crevices, avoid avalanches and keep our eyes on the summit. As the Royal College has navigated the challenges of strategic change, Françoise has been our wise Sherpa by keeping us on track, staying focused on the strategic summit, and encouraging us all to keep moving forward. She’s done a fabulous job!”
Dr. Chagnon will continue to serve in the role of immediate Past-President throughout 2019-2020. Among other contributions, she is leading the search for the Royal College’s next chief executive officer who will replace Dr. Padmos when he retires on December 31, 2019.