Dr. Kristjan Thompson is a prairie boy, through and though. Of Icelandic and Ukrainian descent, he was born, raised, and educated in Winnipeg, and has been working at St. Boniface Hospital since his residency in emergency medicine. Dr. Thompson has recently been named the Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director of Clinical Programs (Interim) of the hospital, a development that has so far brought him a lot of professional satisfaction.
“I’m so excited for this,” he says. “This is my dream job and it’s truly an honour and privilege for me. It has literally been a dream of mine from the minute I started working here in 2011.”
The Chief Medical Officer position oversees the health policy and medical direction of the hospital, and acts as a liaison between medical staff and leadership.
In addition to his new responsibilities, Dr. Thompson is still an emergency room physician at St. Boniface Hospital. He also had a good deal of experience with STARS Ambulance, as a team doctor for the Winnipeg Jets, and an in-depth involvement with Doctors Manitoba for seven years, including as president and board chair. A self-professed “governance and policy junkie,” he’s looking forward to supporting what he has come to believe is an incredibly unique hospital.
“There’s something special here,” he shares. “I knew it from the beginning. I’ve spent time at other sites and it’s just not the same. This place functions like a large family, and you feel warm and welcome when you work here. Our people are strong and resilient, and they truly care for each other and our patients. What connects all of us is that, as healers, we marvel at the human condition. It’s our privilege to take care of folks in their most vulnerable state. They’re putting an immense trust in our abilities to take care of them, and we don’t take that for granted.”
That’s not to say that Dr. Thompson has any illusions about some of the more challenging aspects of his new role. “There’s a lot of fatigue, apathy and burnout happening in healthcare right now,” he admits. “Staff are just deeply tired, and it’s put a lot of stress on everyone. There are some feelings of hopelessness, but I’m holding out hope.”
His reasons for optimism are multi-layered. He admits that systems are under strain, but he also knows that the new provincial government is showing an interest in truly hearing from frontline staff to better understand how to help. “I remember many times during my career where we didn’t have a sense that anyone was listening to us,” Dr. Thompson shares. “So we’re building relationships now, between staff, and between the government and hospital, because we want to be having those important conversations and we want to get around a table and start healing our healthcare system.”
He’s also buoyed by the reputation of the hospital itself. “The most precious resource we have here is our people,” he continues. “I love this province. I’m sold. But we’re kind of an underdog, so finding ways to financially remunerate folks so there’s incentive to move here or stay here can be challenging. If we make sure that our hospital is world-class, then people will want to come here. Our research centre is punching well above its weight for the size of the team. Our cardiac sciences department is extraordinary. People want to work with the best.”
In the months and years ahead, Dr Thompson will be looking to assist in increasing capacity within the hospital. This means things like adding beds, increasing staffing complements and ensuring all the services required for excellent care are in place. “A few years ago, we lost our neurology consult service due to staffing issues,” he says. “My first project was to bring them back, which will happen in the first half of 2024. We are a patient-focused hospital and that’s the lens we’ll continue to use to plan for the future.”