Colonel Commandant Royal Canadian Medical Service: Life balance is the key to success

April 13, 2021 - Defence Stories

By: Captain Kylie Penney, Public Affairs Officer, Canadian Forces Health Services Group – with Colonel Commandant of the Royal Canadian Medical Service, Colonel (ret’d) Brian O’Rourke, OMM, CD

Colonel (ret’d) Brian O’Rourke,

Colonel (ret’d) Brian O’Rourke, OMM, CD

Many people are working from home as a result of the global pandemic. They’re working non-traditional hours as they try to accommodate both work and family obligations while abiding by local health measures. This situation has left many people struggling to disconnect from work, as their work and home lives have blurred into one. The Colonel Commandant of the Royal Canadian Medical Service, Colonel (ret’d) Brian O’Rourke, reminds members of the Defence Team that spending all of your time focusing on work is not healthy, and that the secret to success is maintaining a good life balance.

“I am a big believer that one part of your life cannot be all consuming, whether that’s your work life, your home life, your volunteer work, whatever it happens to be. You also have to look after yourself, your own mental health and wellness. I loved the ability to play sports and coach sports as a way to shift my brain from the stresses of being a member of the military, from some of the operational roles that I did and from my role as a clinician,” says Colonel Commandant O’Rourke. “Just turn your brain off for a few hours in the evening or on the weekends to do something different. I think that actually allows you to refocus on some of those other important areas like your family, your work and as a member of the military, that esprit de corps, cohesion and leadership.”

A pharmacist by occupation, he was appointed Colonel Commandant of the Royal Canadian Medical Service in October, 2020. His role is to help establish connections with Canadians by promoting the history and heritage of the Royal Canadian Medical Service, and highlighting the great work of its personnel. He takes great pride in having been appointed to this role.

“I have been away from the military for the better part of about 12 or 13 years and I am very proud to have been selected. I am the first non-physician to be appointed as the Colonel Commandant. It typically has been either a former Surgeon General or somebody quite senior wearing a physician’s coat.”

Throughout his successful military career, Colonel Commandant O’Rourke served in various positions. He was a clinical pharmacist at Health Services Centres and base hospitals, the head pharmacist at two units, the Chief of Plans and Operations within the Medical Coordination Centre on a deployment to the former Yugoslavia, the Senior Pharmacist for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), and the Deputy Commander Canadian Forces Health Services Group. After retiring from the military, Colonel Commandant O’Rourke also achieved great success at the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH), as the Vice-President of the Common Drug Review for about nine months, and then as its President and Chief Executive Officer.  

While achieving much career success, Colonel Commandant O’Rourke has always prioritized his health, his family, and his volunteer work, in addition to his career. Now retired from both the military and CADTH, he spends time with his wife Laurie, fulfils his role as Colonel Commandant, and continues to volunteer with many national and international networks, committees, boards, and advisory groups. He is also mentoring young scientists and clinicians and offers this advice to CAF members:

“Focus a lot, early on in your careers, on professional development, but never lose that thought. You need to be focused on developing your skills, your knowledge and your experience throughout your career. It is about lifelong learning. Enjoy the work, but do not lose sight of the fact that you need to professionally develop yourself, your physical abilities, your mental abilities, your training and your education.”

While professional development is important, life balance is the key to success, according to Colonel Commandant O’Rourke.

“To me it’s about life balance. It doesn’t necessarily have to be work-life balance. Looking after yourself, your family, your colleagues, your friends, and your work responsibilities -- to be successful in each of these endeavours requires you to be balanced. I think that’s a big part of what military leadership is all about, looking after your troops, your colleagues, your unit, and yourself. Leadership is all about finding that right balance. Life balance is so crucial to success.” 

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