The President - Dr William Cunningham, 2013/2014
Dr William Cunningham is the first emergency department physician to become President of Doctors of BC. He has worked in the emergency department at Cowichan District Hospital in Duncan on Vancouver Island since 2000. He knows first-hand the rewards and challenges of the job, and has played a leadership role in efforts to reduce overcrowding and congestion.
“I consider the emergency department to be the canary in the coal mine,” says Dr Cunningham. “It is where we see first-hand what is working and what is not working in health care.”
His career path to emergency care is a colourful one. After graduating from UBC and then McGill Medical School, Dr Cunningham returned to his hometown of Victoria to do a rotating internship. He craved an adventure, and had always been inspired by his father, a Royal Navy physician in the Second World War and a diplomatic physician attaché. His father would often speak about his love of working in isolated communities. In 1986, Dr Cunningham decided to do a locum in Whitehorse, Yukon, where he stayed for 14 years.
“I loved working in rural medicine,” says Dr Cunningham. “It provided a huge opportunity to practice primary care in a challenging environment. I found that, in the North, if you put your hand up, you got to do interesting things.” This included everything from doing medevacs to setting up the mammography program. He also took on new roles such as Medical Director of the Winter Arctic Games and Vice-Chair of the Mental Health Review Board.
Dr Cunningham travelled a lot in the North. He used to conduct clinics almost 200 kilometres away from Whitehorse on the road to Dawson City, working closely with two nurses. Many patients were from First Nations communities, and to this day he maintains an interest in advocating for programs addressing the needs of vulnerable groups. As a young student he had a passion for advocacy, and he pursued that as President of Medical Staff at Whitehorse General Hospital and as a member of the Yukon Medical Association.
In 2000, Dr Cunningham and his young family decided they wanted a change. They headed for the Cowichan Valley where he started a full-time job in the emergency department. Again, he pursued his passion for advocacy. He became very involved in the Section of Emergency Medicine, the Society of Specialist Physicians and Surgeons, and with the BC Medical Association.
Dr Cunningham is proud of the profession he will represent as Doctors of BC President. He says he will work hard during his term to ensure physicians continue to have a strong voice in building a stronger health care system. He is looking forward to meeting with as many physicians around the province as possible, to listen and respond to their concerns.
Dr Cunningham has three children and lives in Duncan, BC.
Dr William Cunningham spoke at the Doctors of BC Annual General Meeting (AGM) June 1, 2013 just hours before he officially became the 105th Doctors of BC President for 2013-2014. You can listen to a few short clips of his luncheon speech by clicking on the images below:
On becoming President (0:47 sec)
On our relationship with the BC Government (1:37 min)
On reaching out to members (1:00 min)
On the President’s role in the coming year (0:54 sec)
Click here to download Dr Cunningham's speech (PDF)