Physician Executive Dr. Kevin Wasko leads the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA) Integrated Rural Health team for the southern part of the province alongside Vice President Karen Earnshaw. He is part of the new dyad model, where a physician executive and vice president are paired together to co-manage the clinical portfolio and bring their combined expertise to the leadership table. Dr. Wasko likens the dyad to somewhat of an arranged marriage.
Dr. Wasko hiking the Inca Trail in Peru earlier this month
Raised on a cattle ranch near Eastend, Saskatchewan, Dr. Wasko’s roots run deep in southwest Saskatchewan. And, although he has pursued a different career path, his family continues to ranch near Eastend.
His first job was as a grocery boy in the Eastend Co-op. “Didn’t everyone work in the Co-op at some point growing up in rural Saskatchewan,” Dr. Wasko jokes.
Dr. Wasko left small town Saskatchewan to attend Dalhousie University in Halifax where he studied political science and then pursued graduate studies at the University of Calgary.
“How did I become a physician? Good question,” he says. “When I think back, I had a very winding course to get to medicine. I worked in both administration and in government prior to pursuing medicine, which is unusual but I think gave me a unique perspective,” he says.
“Despite detours into other fields, I kept coming back to medicine. In my mind, there is no nobler profession that provides such challenge but such reward. The fact that you play such an integral part in the lives of your patients is exceptionally unique.”
After completing medical school in Calgary, Wasko made a rural return to complete family medicine residency in Swift Current.
“When I was in medical school, I traveled every other weekend to spend time with my daughter who lived in Swift Current with her mother. I knew that in order to play a greater role in her life I would need to make the move back to Saskatchewan. The Swift Current program had just started so it was a great fit for me.”
Rewards of being a physician
Working in different areas of clinical care has given Dr. Wasko an understanding of the health care system.; “I have provided primary, acute and long term care to patients. My passions are obstetrics and emergency medicine, and I am glad that I can maintain those fields of practice while assuming this administrative role.”
Dr. Wasko provides obstetrical care some weekends and works one or two shifts in the Emergency Department in Swift Current every week.
“Obstetrics is particularly rewarding as you share a very special moment in time between parents when you deliver their baby.”
Leadership, Teaching and Quality Improvement
Dr. Wasko is always trying to learn more and continuously engages in opportunities to do so. He conveys that philosophy to the family medicine residents and medical students that he teaches.
“It is so important to always be enhancing your skills and knowledge in any profession, but there is always new research and innovation happening in medicine. Developing new skills and having up-to-date knowledge is imperative. We can always do better. For that reason, I participate in research and quality improvement. I have never allowed myself to be bored.”
Dr. Wasko believes that as a leader you need to empower people to be leaders, even if not in a formal capacity.
“It is important to engage with the people you are trying to lead so they know you are a real person and that you are approachable and accessible if they need you.”
Wasko was involved in the small transition team in 2017 that developed a high-level vision and framework for the Saskatchewan Health Authority. He co-led the efforts to integrate physicians into the process and helped to create the structure that has allowed physicians to assume a more prominent role in the system.
“We know that high performing health systems around the world have successfully embedded physicians into their leadership structures. We have followed that model with the SHA so that physicians play key leadership roles and are involved in decision-making at every level. This will continue to evolve as we continue to create a new structure for health care across the province.”
New role in SHA
His new role as Physician Executive offers variety and challenges. Integrated rural health covers a big area and Dr. Wasko is out and about every day making connections with people in the community, with patients and their families, staff and physicians.
Working in a dyad with Karen Earnshaw, he shares that they have the same vision for rural health care.
“It excites me to be able to tell people about our vision for the future of health care in rural Saskatchewan: a truly integrated system that wraps care around the patient. We are both passionate about a refocusing on primary health care and creating robust core services across rural Saskatchewan. The work that is starting with the creation of Health Networks in the province will create a basis on which we can build a health care system of the future.”
Family and Personal Life
Dr. Wasko and his wife, Kylie have been married for eight years and raise their family in Swift Current.
“Settling in Swift Current has been the right move for us as we both have extended family in and around Swift Current. My mother actually lives next door now and plays in important role in helping us to raise our kids. I am also fortunate to have a strong relationship with my daughter’s mother, allowing us to raise our daughter together between homes only a few blocks apart.”
Dr. Wasko skiing in the mountains
They also like to travel together. “As a family, we have travelled to places such as Italy, Hawaii, California, New York City and from coast to coast in Canada, including the far north. We have an upcoming trip planned to South Africa in February that we are excited about. Children can learn so much from travel and experiencing different cultures and ways of life. I want them to know that there is so much more to the world than what they experience day to day.”
Dr. Wasko and his family in New York City this past summer
Wasko’s fear of boredom means that he also likes to stay active by running, hiking and skiing.
“Earlier this month I travelled to Peru with my friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Kapusta, where we hiked the Inca Trail. The trek was not only a physical, but also a mental challenge for me. I am a big believer in the growth mindset and the need to challenge one’s self. If we don’t push our limits, we will never see what we can achieve.”
Dr. Wasko and Dr. Kapusta earlier this month in Peru