08/19/2013 01:14 EDT | Updated 10/19/2013 05:12 EDT

New health minister Ambrose focuses on family violence in speech to doctors

CALGARY - New federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose focused much of her first speech to doctors Wednesday on the need to tackle domestic violence.

She told delegates to the Canadian Medical Association convention that the social issue costs society at least $7.4 billion a year, of which roughly $6 billion goes to medical treatment and psychological services.

"You are often the first to interact with patients who are dealing with family violence, and research shows you are the ones that victims are mostly likely to disclose abuse to," she said.

"I have now asked the Public Health Agency of Canada to identify opportunities and partnerships that will help end family violence in Canada within the health portfolio."

Ambrose also expressed a need to renew attention on research and innovation. She listed several priorities: health of aboriginal people, new approaches to public health issues and working with provinces and organizations to improve the system.

Ambrose, who took over the portfolio in a recent cabinet shuffle, told delegates to the association's annual convention that she was there to listen and learn.

"I'm pleased to have this opportunity ... to hear from you, to listen to you and forge a true partnership with you," she said.

Ambrose planned to spend the day meeting and exchanging views with physicians.

The medical association's outgoing president called Ambrose's health-care vision "new and engaging."

Dr. Anna Reid told reporters she was impressed with what she heard.

"We're interested in hearing Health Minister Rona Ambrose's new and engaging vision for health care. She said clearly she wants to look at many of the issues the CMA has been advocating as part of its health-care transformation, such as preventative health, aboriginal health care and seniors care," Reid said.

"Her stated willingness to work with the provinces and profession is a positive signal to Canadians, who consistently rank health care as a top-of-mind concern."