Q&A with OMA President Dr. Michael Toth

When Dr. Michael Toth, MD’84, was elected to the Ontario Medical Association’s (OMA) executive committee in 2010, he never could have predicted the situation the OMA and Ontario government would be in for his term as president. With the two parties at an impasse when it comes to a Physician Services Agreement, Dr. Toth’s top priority is having the government work with Ontario’s doctors to get back to the table to negotiate.

Dr. Toth sat down with us to discuss his new role, the goals he would like to accomplish during his term, and why he enjoys his involvement with the OMA .

Where were you born and raised?
I’m from Elgin County, which is located just south of London, Ontario. I grew up in Port Burwell, which is just along the north shore of Lake Erie.

What is your educational background?
After graduating from medical school at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in 1984, I completed my family medicine training in 1986. I’ve been working as a family doctor in Aylmer, Ontario ever since.

Can you tell me about your role as President of the Ontario Medical Association, and how you came to take on this position?
I just started the role this year, and it’s a one-year term. After I started working as a family doctor in 1986, I started becoming more involved in various things, including the St. Thomas-Elgin Medical Association. I started working with the Association in the mid-1990s and eventually became president.

During the mid-1990s was the last time there was turmoil between the provincial government and organized medicine. It was the time of “Rae Days” and cutbacks under the Mike Harris government. That was the time I really became involved and interested in this kind of work.

Is that one of the reasons why you wanted to take on the position of OMA President now?
Actually, it’s just a coincidence that my term is taking place right now. When I became involved with the OMA in the early 2000s, I did some negotiations and became a member of the OMA board. About six years ago, I was elected to the executive committee of the OMA board, and that leads you on the way to presidency. In some ways, it’s been a five-year journey.

Five years ago, when I started with the executive committee, I didn’t know we would be in the situation we’re in now during my term as president. As background, after close to a year of negotiations between the OMA and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC), the OMA board rejected the MOHLTC’s final offer on January 15 because it contained cuts and changes that would hurt patient care in Ontario. In response, the government unilaterally imposed those changes and cuts starting on February 1. There have been no further negotiations, but I remain optimistic the government will change its mandate so we can return to the table to negotiate a fair and reasonable agreement that puts patients first.   

What would you like to accomplish during your term as OMA President?
I’ve said many times that my year as President is going to be a lot different than I thought it was going to be when I started five years ago, because no one could have predicted that we would be in a situation without a Physician Services Agreement. One of the main reasons the OMA exists is to negotiate with the government, so my term is going to be taken up a lot by this impasse we’re having with the government and working toward a resolution that is satisfactory to both parties, and also for the system as a whole.

Having said that, my other goal is to look at the OMA as a whole. Our profession is becoming more female — the majority of medical students are now women — and I think, depending on the projections, by 2020 the majority of the profession in Ontario will be female. We also need to make sure we are attractive to the younger generation, one that has grown up with the Internet, electronic communication and a different way of interacting. These potential members need something different than what my generation of physicians needed, and we need to reflect that. I think we need to encourage a more diverse organization.

Why did you personally want to take on this role?
The OMA does a lot of good and interesting work — not just negotiations for fee schedules. We do a lot of work on health policy, and we look at the medical system as a whole to see what improvements can be made. I think those are interesting things, and as you get further and further into the work it is quite satisfying.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Seeing as this is being included in the Alumni Newsletter, I just wanted to mention that I’m not the first OMA President or member from the Medicine Class of 1984. Dr. Janice Willett, MD’84, proceeded me by about four or five years, and she was my classmate. Another classmate of mine, Dr. Albert Ng from Windsor, Ontario, is currently sitting on the OMA board of directors. There are at least three of us from that one class who have become involved at the provincial level of medical politics in Ontario, which I find interesting. Even though there are approximately 28,000 practising physicians in Ontario, it’s a small group in the grand scheme of things, and you never really lose touch.