Better internet access.
The Ontario government announced a $3.3 million investment last week that will expand the three-year old Northern Ontario School of Medicine, a joint program at Laurentian and Lakehead universities aimed at increasing access to medical treatment in northern and remote areas. But the funds won’t go to buying more stethoscopes. Much of the investment will pay for improved internet access.
Premier Dalton McGuinty was in Thunder Bay for the announcement. “By training medical students in the North, we’re helping to ensure that more doctors will work in the North. With these improvements, northern communities will benefit right away from the dedication and expertise of these medical students,” said Premier McGuinty.
NOSM represents a major shift in the way medical education is delivered in Canada. With the family doctor shortages hitting small towns hardest, provinces have been struggling to find ways to get doctors to practice in northern and remote areas. NOSM—along with a new program at UBC’s medical school—is one answer to this problem. But with NOSM’s first class heading into its fourth year and UBC’s new grads only being out of the gate for a few months, it is unclear whether the new approach will accomplish the goal of retaining doctors in these remote communities.
NOSM was the first new medical school to be opened in Canada in 30 years and has a unique structure, being hosted by two universities 1,200 kilometers apart but governed by an independent board. Students are stationed in small communities where they study mainly through video conferencing and other internet-based learning. Ontario’s $33 million will go towards upgrading internet connections in 77 communities in order to allow students to stay in better contact with teachers at Laurentian and Lakehead and increase the number of students who can enroll in the program. The first 56 students are set to graduate next year.
B.C. has taken a similar approach with the four-year old UBC distributive medical program. UBC partnered with the University of Victoria and the University of Northern BC to train students specifically for rural practice, with the hope of increasing the number of graduates who plan to practice in northern and rural areas. The first approximately 75 students graduated this spring. The new program will almost double the number of students enrolled in UBC’s medical school in 2004 by 2014.