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Thorough examination of medical school's capacity could cure northern doctor shortage — council motion

'It would take, at minimum, five NOSM graduating classes of 64 physicians per year to address the current shortage'
2022 01 07-doctor-medical-physician-student-pexels-karolina-grabowska-7195369
A North Bay City Council motion pushes for increased residency and medical doctor positions at NOSM.

Say "aah," if you've heard this one before: there is a shortage of physicians in northern communities. There is nothing cutting-edge about this diagnosis. But, two North Bay City Councillors are seizing an opportunity to encourage the powers-that-be to treat the doctor shortage with a home remedy, of sorts.

"To meet the needs of Northern Ontario," Councillors Bill Vrebosch and Mac Bain will seek support during Tuesday's regular meeting for a resolution on behalf of the City of North Bay requesting the provincial government and the Ontario Medical Association immediately expand the Northern Ontario School of Medicine's capacity with additional residency and medical doctor positions, plus increased clinical teaching funding to the Northern Ontario Academic Medicine Association.

The motion gives a nod to the doctors NOSM has capably trained — while identifying the need for more of them — and notes a key part of the equation is finding ways to encourage more physicians and health care professionals to stay and work in Northern communities.

"Although highly successful at providing doctors, NOSM has fewer spots for health care professionals than the rest of Ontario's medical schools and it would take, at minimum, five NOSM graduating classes of 64 physicians per year to address the current shortage," reads the motion.

The Vrebosch and Bain collaboration also states underserved Northern Ontario locales — including rural, Indigenous, and Francophone communities — have been advocating without much success for relief and the physician shortage remains "a failure of health care in Northern Ontario," as one in eight northerners do not have a family doctor while the life expectancy of northern residents is more than two years lower than the Ontario average. 

See related: 'The north needs more health resources' says Northern Ontario School of Medicine

NOSM was created in 2002 to “reverse a chronic shortage of physicians with a mandate to improve the health of Northern Ontarians, with a focus on rural, remote, Indigenous and Francophone populations.”

In late 2021, NOSM numbers indicated North Bay was in need of 26 physicians including seven family doctors and 19 specialists. The school estimated a minimum of 313 full-time equivalent physicians are needed across the north and that figure does not reflect anticipated retirements. Of those 313 vacancies,126 family physicians are needed, 86 of those in rural communities.  

See also: Northern Ontario School of Medicine consults Northerners as it evolves into NOSM University

NOSM University is the first stand-alone medical school in Canada and “will continue to emphasize its primary mandate to addressing the region's health-care gaps,” said Dr. Sarita Verma, Dean, President and CEO of NOSM last month. “NOSM prioritizes the need for education in northern Ontario and leading population and health research to make sure that any health care provided is tailored specifically to the needs of the people in the region. NOSM University will continue to meet the needs of the north and we will recruit from its people — who train here in culturally relevant programs and stay here to practice.”

If passed, copies of the motion will be forwarded to Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop, Minister of Health Christine Elliott, their Deputy Ministers, MPP Victor Fedeli, the Leaders of the Opposition Parties, Ontario Medical Association, Northern School of Medicine, Northern Ontario Academic Medicine Association, Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities.

With files from Linda Holmes