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Finding the fight in Virginia Walley

by Jason Winders

Dr. Virginia Walley
Dr. Virginia Walley, MD’78, began her one-year term as President of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) in May 2016.

Dr. Virginia Walley never expected it to be easy.

Walley, MD’78, knew what loomed when she began her one-year term as President of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) in May 2016. Two years had passed since the province had an agreement with the OMA. During that time, discontent had festered among some of the organization’s 41,000 doctors, retired doctors and doctors-in-training after the Liberal government imposed multiple fee cuts on the sector.

And so, almost from the start, Walley was in for a fight.

“I would say I am a reluctant warrior – but I will fight when necessary,” said the lab physician who works in Toronto and lives in Peterborough. “And this seems like exactly the right time. Everything I have talked to our members about – the energy they have for partnering with all the stakeholders in the system, the energy they have for improving the system – is palpable in everyone I talk to, everyone I follow on Twitter, everyone I hear from in emails or in person. We are energized to improve the system, yet we are thwarted in our relationship with the government.

“It makes me a bit grumpy that energy is not being used on patients’ behalf. So much energy is being wasted.”

In August, a tentative deal reached a month earlier was rejected by doctors.

Born in Deep River, Ont., Walley found her calling when she enrolled in Medicine as a 19-year-old kid after her first year at Western. “My experience at Western is integral to who I am now – all the great people, my teachers, my mentors, my fellow students” she said. “We’re all just what other people helped us be.”

Walley has been involved with medical leadership since the mid-1980s. She is the past President of the Ontario Association of Pathologists; a former Board Director of the Canadian Medical Association; and a member of the OMA Board for more than a decade. That commitment is rooted in firm belief.

“If you are involved in medicine in any way, you know there are things that can be improved about the system. If you have any interest in improving the system, then you have to get involved in leadership,” she said. “Why be in it if you aren’t interested in doing something about it?”

The first half of her term may have been more eventful than any of the OMA’s previous 134 presidents. But the fight never phased Walley. For her, it is all part of the job.

“There is nothing special about me. I am the representative of, and advocate for, physicians,” she said. “It is a fabulous honour to be in this position. Having that many bright, interested, energetic, motivated people, you want to do a great job for them.

“I don’t have all the answers. However, collectively, I believe we do. There may not be a single solution out there. People just need to let loose, and be given rein to create the system that works best in their locale. Given that opportunity, people will sort it out. We all have a shared interest in doing the best for patients and the system.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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