The Shifting Roles of the SOGC in the Face of the COVID-19 Pandemic

      The coronavirus is an RNA virus; RNA is a precursor to life and wields the power to change just about every aspect of our lives, as COVID-19 has proven. In health care, the effects of COVID-19 have been profound. Health care providers are challenged with caring for patients with COVID-19 as well as those whose elective procedures have been put on hold. Many of these providers are working without adequate personal protective equipment and staffing supports, facing financial burdens, and worrying about their own families.
      Canada's health professional societies, including the SOGC, have played a central role in Canada's COVID-19 response and recovery: mobilizing the expertise of our members to develop new guidance and protocols; collaborating with one another and with government agencies to share knowledge and experience; educating the public through the media; and advocating for our patients and our members. While some of these activities reflect the existing mandate of a professional society, nothing could have prepared us for how our usual priorities would be overtaken by the imperative to provide our members with the resources they needed once the pandemic hit.
      Education became the first priority. We developed a COVID-19 resources page on where we maintain official statements on COVID-19 authored by our clinical committees, as well as other practice resources, such as protocols for virtual care developed by other SOGC committees. Our website also hosts an educational resources page with short courses and educational materials. The SOGC Board held weekly webinar-based forums, aimed at sharing best practices. The forums were restricted to members to enable a free and open discussion of controversial topics. All questions were answered and posted online for general reference. This dialogue helped us identify areas of need.
      But no single organization can manage pandemic response alone. We were in regular contact with the Public Health Agency of Canada as they developed guidance for our patients, and we helped disseminate webinars by our universities and by FIGO. We were also in regular communication with other OB–GYN professional societies and colleges, as well as the Canadian Association of Midwives and the Canadian Association of Perinatal and Women's Health Nurses. We reached out and found industry partners who were ready to step up and assist our community in these challenging times.
      What have we learned about our health system? The first has to be that it was operating too close to the edge. When the pandemic hit, our hospitals were over capacity and had normalized corridor care. As of this writing, we have not seen the system totally overwhelmed, as has been the case in other countries, but we were forced to delay needed care for thousands of women in order to make resources available for the volume of cases we did experience. Shortages of personal protective equipment hurt care delivery. As we try to return our economy to health, will we be prepared to commit to funding stockpiles of these vital supplies against a future pandemic need?
      What have we learned about our role as professional society? Many of the ways in which we work will remain permanently changed. We will continue to develop new ways of providing continuing professional development, connecting our members, and mobilizing their expertise. We were planning to expand our educational offerings beyond meetings and online courses to more robust bi-directional web-based learning and practice-based assessment, but the time frame for that move has become immediate. We will be benefiting from the expertise of the educators among our membership to create high-quality ‘on your own time’ practice-based learning and quality improvement resources. We still want to meet face-to-face, but when and how?
      As a society, we need to engage in a thorough debrief of lessons learned now so we are prepared for the next wave (or next pandemic). We were lucky that, unlike H1N1 or MERS, COVID-19 did not affect pregnant women more severely, but what if it had? And what if a future viral outbreak does? The SOGC functions as a volunteer organization, but it plays an essential role in care delivery across the country. Throughout the pandemic, the SOGC was regarded as a trusted and credible ally. We need to ensure that no matter what the next outbreak might look like, we are once again ready to respond and pivot to find the path ahead. In the end, the essential role of the SOGC is to mobilize the expertise of its members, its committees, and its leaders for the health of our patients and the wellbeing of our members.