Postgraduate accreditation in NOSM’s non-traditional model

Roger Strasser, Founding Dean, Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

Traditions: they’re often something we cherish.

Every year at this time, I think about the differences in holiday traditions between Canada and my native Australia.

For some Canadians, December is associated with snowy landscapes, ice-skating, and hot chocolate. For some Australians, this is the time of year for the hot summer sun, surf, and the proverbial “shrimp on the barbie.”

Whether the jolly, bearded, present-bearing man is wearing traditional winter boots or modern beach sandals, the spirit of the holiday season doesn’t change. We still celebrate with friends and family, and ponder our dreams for the following year.

Similarly, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) has demonstrated that there are many paths to the same metaphorical destination. Our model of distributed, community-engaged education and research may be unique, but it serves a very important purpose.

In order to ensure that medical learners across the nation are receiving quality education, medical schools undergo accreditation reviews.

Accrediting bodies visit medical schools and examine their programs – from administration to educational material – to ensure that learners will be successful health professionals upon completion of their training.

In May 2014, NOSM will be the first new Canadian medical school in more than 30 years to undergo a full accreditation review for our postgraduate education (residency) programs.

After completing the four-year MD program, Canadian physicians must undertake a residency program in order to be licensed for independent practice.

During residency, they develop necessary skills and competencies through supervised practice, formal learning, and independent study.

Like all of NOSM’s programs, our postgraduate training is unique. No other Canadian medical school is a joint initiative between two universities. No other Canadian medical school provides training in more than 70 communities across a geographic area of 800,000 square kilometres.

NOSM’s postgraduate programs are also relatively new.

Rather than taking the off-the-shelf approach and delivering residency programs directly modeled after those of other Canadian medical schools, NOSM has developed novel post-graduate education strategies to meet the needs of Northern Ontarians.

All of our nine postgraduate programs – one in family medicine and eight in other major, general specialties like psychiatry and pediatrics – are offered because Northern Ontario communities need those types of physicians the most.

At other medical schools, residents complete their required clinical rotations in a big city teaching hospital – only steps away.

In fact, accreditation standards were developed based on residency programs that are delivered in a single teaching hospital. But NOSM takes a different approach. We send our residents hundreds of kilometers across the province for their rotations. From Haileybury to Kenora, our residents are literally all over the map.

Our unique strategy accomplishes many important things. First, variety in practice location exposes residents to patients who require different types of care. Second, residents become versatile by adapting to new facilities and equipment, while also networking with different NOSM residents and faculty members.

Third, through their educational licenses, residents provide a significant amount of patient care in communities across the North – in aged-care facilities, hospitals, family health teams, and more. Fourth, residents broaden teaching opportunities for community physicians, who would not otherwise have opportunity to interact with residents.

And last, but certainly not least, our model weaves residents into the fabric of more than three dozen communities throughout the North in the hopes that a positive experience may win over the residents’ hearts and minds, and encourage them to return upon completion of their training.

For me, holiday traditions provide a light-hearted metaphor for varied approaches to medical education. Whether we reach for ear muffs or sunscreen, we protect ourselves from the elements.

Whether metropolis or rural based, medical education should strive to graduate high-quality health professionals.

In May 2014, NOSM staff, faculty, and community partners will showcase the exciting, non-traditional road of medical education that we are paving in the North.

We may be on the road less travelled, but we’re proud to train the type of health professionals that Northern Ontarians need.

On behalf of NOSM, I wish you, your family, and your friends a happy and healthy holiday season.

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