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Theresa Oswald on resilience: Embracing ‘Option B’

March 5, 2018 — 

She was a high-profile politician, self-assured in her demanding role as Manitoba’s health minister from 2006 to 2013.

But when Theresa Oswald didn’t succeed in winning the NDP leadership race in 2015, it was a shattering setback.

“That loss was devastating to me. I carried a sense of grief for a long time,” Oswald told the audience at the eighth annual Teacher Recognition and Manitoba Medical Students’ Association Awards Dinner, held on Feb. 28 on the Bannatyne campus. 

The former St. Vital teacher opted not to seek re-election as an MLA in 2016. She was stuck in sadness, she said, grieving that her “Option A” had failed to play out as she’d planned.

In her warmly personal speech on the theme of gratitude to teachers and mentors, Oswald credited someone she has never met with helping her to recover and move forward.  

That person is Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In. Sandberg, who has spoken about her own difficult journey through grief, recently co-wrote the book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.

“I view her as a brilliant teacher,” Oswald said.

Sandberg’s advice about rebounding from loss and making the most of “Option B” helped Oswald get back in the health leadership game, first as the executive director of Women’s Health Clinic and now as the new chief executive officer of Doctors Manitoba, the organization that represents more than 3,000 physicians in the province.

“I have come to understand … that there are many ways to do good in this world,” Oswald told more than 100 students, faculty, deans and teachers from the Max Rady College of Medicine in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.

Oswald cautioned the medical students not to develop a sense of entitlement and snobbery because of their privileged position as doctors. She urged them to emulate physician-teachers who demonstrate humility and humanity.  

She shared the story of a Winnipeg physician who had arranged for an elderly friend of Oswald’s to receive palliative care at home. On the Saturday night of a long weekend, the doctor was told by phone that the patient had passed away and there was no need for him to come. He nonetheless put on a coat and tie and drove 45 minutes in a downpour to offer his condolences.

“I knew I was in the presence of greatness – quiet, understated greatness,” Oswald recalled. “He came all that way in the rain to pay his proper respects. There wasn’t an ounce of entitlement. Not a shred of selfishness.… Learn from him.”

The Teacher Recognition Awards, voted on by medical students, honoured excellence in teaching at the Max Rady College of Medicine in categories such as innovation, inspiration, mentorship, patient advocacy and small-group teaching.

Five awards were also presented to medical students who have distinguished themselves in the categories of citizenship, global health, community service, leadership and professionalism.

The list of winners and nominees can be found on the MMSA website.

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