Northern medical school is a success story like no other
The Ontario Medical Association is highlighting northern Ontario's medical university in a new campaign.
Canada's standalone university, NOSM, was featured first in a series of seven episodes created by the OMA to showcase physician success stories across the province.
NOSM was highlighted for its efforts to address the ongoing doctor shortage in northern Ontario.
Dr. Sarita Verma, university president and vice-chancellor, said she's proud of how far the school has come.
"We estimate 400,000 people now have health care because of a NOSM grad and if they stay to do their residency, the majority stay in northern Ontario," Verma said.
Of the graduates, 17 per cent identify as Indigenous and 25 per cent identify as Franco-Ontarian.
"There is no other success story like this in Canada," Verma said.
"All other schools are turning to us saying how do you do it, what's your process. We've only been around for 18 years, so our impact is quite spectacular."
Verma said that while the video is a success story, there is still much work to be done, referring to the doctor shortage as a “crisis.” She said at least 360 doctors are needed in northern Ontario, but estimates that number is likely much higher.
"That’s not just family doctors, that’s specialists," she said.
"If you're waiting for a psychiatrist that’s two years; if you're waiting for a specialist for your arthritis, that’s six months to two years. So the shortage is palpable."
The Ontario Medical Association is highlighting northern Ontario's medical university in a new campaign. Canada's standalone university, NOSM, was featured first in a series of seven episodes created by the OMA to showcase physician success stories across the province. (Photo from video)
The need is felt provincially and nationally. Verma said roughly eight million people across the country don’t have a family physician.
In Ontario, the OMA estimates that number to be more than two million.
"Not having a family doctor has real impacts for your health, particularly in the areas of prevention and those illnesses that require a quarterbacking of care," said OMA president Dr. Andrew Park.
"That’s 2.3 million Ontarians without that person really guiding their care and that has huge implications for future health states of those individuals."
Park said, while the campaign is to highlight physicians successes, it's also to inform.
"Physicians are part of a solution in these majorly complex solutions," Dr. Park said.
"We want to be a part of a solution, we want to be a part of the table to solving some of these problems. That’s a real goal."
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Verma said living in northern Ontario presents unique challenges with a doctor shortage.
"In downtown Toronto you have the choice of other emergency rooms to go to, a lot of walk-in clinics and they're within driving distance," she said.
"In northern Ontario, that’s not the case. Then there are wait times, lack of physicians made worse by COVID, the reality that it’s a unique environment and the challenges are different."
NOSM is also currently in conciliation with the union representing the university's faculty and staff. Verma it’s the university's intention to resolve the differences and said both are working towards a common goal of caring about the students.
"I don’t think the gaps are as big as others have led you to believe. I actually think we're pretty close," she said.
"I respect the union and the employees' rights to pursue their rights under labour laws. Being someone who totally supports the employees, I understand what their issues are, but there's nothing on the table I don’t think we can resolve. I think it’s a matter of sitting down and talking to each other."
The process is expected to take a few months.
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