20 May 2016

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine

From Country Life, 9:17 pm on 20 May 2016
Northern Ontario

Northern Ontario Photo: Northern Ontario School of Medicine

The people of Northern Ontario decided they had had enough. Enough of lurching from week to week with hastily arranged fill-in doctors to provide medical care.

So they lobbied to establish their own medical school; one designed to produce doctors who would be happy to work in the vast landscape and  its remote communities.

In 2005, the Northern Ontario School of medicine took in its first medical students.

It was Canada's first new medical school in 35 years and had a curriculum designed to expose students to rural life, in the hope they'll love it and will opt for it.

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine's (NOSM's) Roger Strasser was a key-note speaker and the National Rural Health conference held recently in Dunedin.

New Zealand is also grappling with a shortage of rural doctors. It's estimated 100 rural doctors could be placed across New Zealand tomorrow.

Dr Strasser says preferential entry to NOSM is given to students from Northern Ontario or to those from similar remote, rural backgrounds, to indigenous applicants and to Francophone applicants in a bid to mirror the make-up of the province's population.

From day one of year one the students work in community settings. In their first year they spend 4 weeks living in an indigenous community including extremely remote First Nation communities that in winter can only be reached by ice roads or in summer by airplane.

Twice in their second year the students work along-side with doctors and other health professionals in  remote communities with populations of less than 5,000.

And in the third year of the four year degree they work for the entire academic year in large rural or small urban communities and see patients.

Dr Strasser says the students are motivated to study  so they can respond to the health needs of their patients.  

The new approach seems to be working.

"Probably our most spectacular headline story is a place called Chapleu...Chapleau went for nearly 7 years without a permanent doctor, just locums; relief doctors coming and going until July 2012. Since then they have had three home-grown doctors and one of them is First Nation."

 Dr Strasser says 62 percent of NOSM graduates choose general practice, mostly rural general practice, which is almost double the national average for new graduates in Canada.  

He says entry into NOSM is now very competitive with more than 2,000 people applying each year for one of the  64 places offered for first year students.

Get the new RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to Country Life

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)