SUDBURY -- It was an historic day at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine as it unveiled its new five-year strategic plan.

And social accountability will play a large part in everything they're doing as it strives to make health care more culturally competent moving forward.

They're including three other strategic directions. Items like transforming health human resource planning, innovating health professions and strengthening the research capacity of Northern Ontario, which is already underway.

"That's why NOSM was created -- NOSM came out of a massive groundswell of community movement," said Dr. Sarita Verma, the school's president, dean and CEO. "Canada wasn't going to have a 17th medical school -- northern Ontario was going to have one."

Verma said it was her vision that brought her north. She and her team have included hundreds of people in their consultations just to draft the plan. She said it will continue to be very community-driven.

"We are no ordinary school of medicine," said Verma. "In this day and age of a pandemic, health inequity is like the case of Joyce Echaquan who Facebook Streamed live while filming her death."

Never happen again

A long-time doctor herself, Verma said the circumstances surrounding Echaquan were unacceptable and it can never be allowed to happen again.

"What about those cases where there isn't someone live-streaming and it's happening -- and I know it's happening, and I hear from physicians and patients that it's happening, so there's no time to stick our head in the sand anymore," she said.

The medical school has joined the mayor's taskforce on how to create a better downtown and to address some of the issues Greater Sudbury is facing.

It's also sending some of its students out into the world to work with marginalized communities to determine what they need to have the best health outcomes.

One of those teachers sending out his students is Dr. Alexandre Anawati.

"It's a significant advancement for the school to not just hope for equity but to advocate and insist -- insist on equity," Anawati told the presentation.

He wants them to experience marginalization and to learn from these people directly.

Rural medicine

Another individual who addressed the crowd was Dr. Sarah Newbery, a physician from Marathon who's also NOSM's associate dean. Newbery said she knows the challenges of rural medicine all too well.

"We have seen emerging challenges through the COVID-19 pandemic that this pandemic has really shown us that we have challenges around the aging workforce in Northern Ontario," she said. "If they're in one of our rural communities like Wawa, Sturgeon Falls, Cochrane, Matheson, Marathon -- that all of our citizens should be able to access that high quality care."

As the first female and person of colour to lead a Canadian medical school, Verma said she's proud of where they're heading. Their new direction is needed now, more than ever, as they look at navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said they have key indicators they will be looking for to measure the success of the plan as the academic year proceeds.

"Strategic foresight in this plan doesn't just help us figure out what to think a bout the future -- it helps us figure out how to innovatively think about it," she said.

NOSM runs campuses at both Laurentian University in Sudbury and at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.