Books July 2012
Virtuosity in Health Policy


Terrence Sullivan

Those of us in the world of health policy comprise a splendid and slightly ragtag collection of folks who ply their trade from different ports of origin.

Some enter from politics, others from health services leadership directly and still others from the research end of the continuum. What is more, we disparate critters often have more in common with each other than with our professional or disciplinary colleagues who span the waterfront from law, social science, epidemiology, management, politics and journalism. But what distinguish the journeymen from the virtuosos are three particular attributes.

The first is a deep understanding of how the legislative, regulatory and administrative processes work in healthcare. Such a person must comprehend how the institutional arrangements and incentives are intended to act in the delivery system and how they operate in reality. Second, one who understands these matters well must have the capacity to take complex issues in the organization, financing and delivery of health services and render them simple, sensible and even imaginable to other actors in the field through clear analysis using a variety of analytical tools. This turns out to be no small task since many in our delivery system believe that the current organization fell from the sky fully formed, that it is more or less all workable with more money or more efficiency and that all major transformations should therefore be resisted, by threat of political retribution, professional jihad or continuous shroud waving with the public. The virtuoso can take a health policy issue, simplify and articulate it with clarity and work to move the issue, its causes and its potential remedies into the unforgiving light of public and political discourse. This brings me to the last attribute, which is the personal drive, motivation and public interest that health policy activists bring to the debate. Being knowledgeable is one thing. Having the capacity to analyze and articulate is another. But possessing the motivation to craft and thrust a line of opinion or analysis into the public debate in a timely fashion is to advance the public discourse and illuminate better decision-making. Steven Lewis illustrates these attributes with distinction.

This country is short of individuals such as Steven who seize the opportunity and create debate. Working effectively and opportunistically with a variety of research and policy organizations and governments in this country and abroad, Steven operates like a oneman policy apparatus pushing forward new ideas. 

Dear friend and colleague, Esteban, the Dos Equis of Canadian health policy, we congratulate you on getting old. But, as you know, 60 is the new 40. So enjoy the fruits of your virtuous life of running and living well. And continue to contribute prolific material to the Canadian health policy world and be the important, iconic gadfly that you have become.

About the Author(s)

Terrence (Terry) Sullivan is the Chair of the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) Board of Directors. He is the former president and CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, a position he occupied for seven years. From 1993-2001, Terry was president of the Institute for Work & Health, a private not-for-profit institute affiliated with the University of Toronto, which he developed into North America’s leading research centre on work-related injury. Terry has held senior roles in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Cabinet Office. He served two successive first ministers of Ontario as executive director of the Premier’s Council on Health Strategy.


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