NOSM’s faculty inspire future health professionals to pursue rural practice

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

Rural medicine was considered urban medicine’s sad cousin for decades. To some urbanites, rural practitioners put their career out to pasture by choosing to practise in rural and remote settings, due in part to lack of involvement in health professional education.

As a rural physician for over 30 years, I had witnessed first hand the excellence in those “pastures.” When the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), Canada’s first rural medical school, opened its doors, many of our rural colleagues welcomed the opportunity to teach in their own backyard. Today,

NOSM learners – studying to become physicians, dietitians, physician assistants, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, audiologists and speech-language pathologists – are trained in more than 90 communities across Northern Ontario by more than 1,300 faculty members. Rural and Northern clinicians are showing themselves to be not only skilled clinicians, but also inspirational faculty members.

I’d like to share with you just a few of the countless tales I hear about the exceptional work of our faculty members. NOSM graduate Dr. Ben Quackenbush recently fulfilled his dream of becoming a physician in his hometown of Little Current.

Although it was his ties to Little Current that encouraged him to pursue rural medicine, it was his faculty who opened his eyes to both the challenges and rewards of rural medicine.

“Medical education at NOSM was more than just a core education in a large, urban academic teaching centre with a few token, rural electives,” reports Ben. “I spent nearly 40 per cent of my time in rural communities such as Little Current, Blind River, Gore Bay and Parry Sound. My teachers and mentors during my education taught me the science of medicine, but also the fine art of rural family practice.”

Prior to his placement in the North, physiotherapist Tyler Moise from Cornwall, Ontario, had never been further north than Barrie. Through the expanded role of his preceptors, Tyler came to see the North as a place of exciting professional opportunity.

“When you’re working in a smaller community, each person takes on a larger role than what you would see in southern Ontario,” Tyler says. “Seeing my preceptor’s expanded role and the huge impact she had on her patients inspired me to pursue a career in the North.” Upon graduation of his physiotherapy training, Tyler relocated to Sudbury to work at Health Sciences North.

NOSM resident Dr. Megan Bollinger, currently training in Sioux Lookout, speaks extremely highly of her exciting foray into rural residency. She likens her faculty to Swiss Army knives – compact bundles of widely diverse utility, with a variety of skills in obstetrics, anesthesia, orthopedics, emergency medicine and clinical care.

“The rural clinicians I work with are incredible,” says Megan. “I have been taught to do procedures in the absence of a pre-labeled kit… MacGyverstyle medicine. I know that I will not be alone when I step into practice; that in rural settings, I can feel well supported.”

Serving the Francophone community of Sturgeon Falls, NOSM assistant professor and past recipient of the Excellence Award in Teaching Dr. Jean Anawati has been a long-standing advocate for training physicians sensitive to the needs of Francophone communities.

Working one-on-one with learners, Jean combines patient consults with book learning to ensure learners get the most out of their clinical training.

“As a physician and a Francophone, I feel it is my role to promote training and retention,” he says. “If we can train, we will retain.”

NOSM assistant professor Dr. Rick Senior was recently named the 2014 recipient of North Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s Jean Rochefort Award for his involvement with NOSM medical students and residents. NOSM learner Mélanie Patrie grins as she describes Rick’s influence on her: “Forty years from now when I look back at my favourite teachers, I’ll be thinking of Dr. Senior. If I am to become a great family physician in my life, I will owe much of that to him.”

If education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire, it gives me great excitement to see NOSM’s passionate and award-winning faculty creating the sparks that are inspiring meaningful rural practice and education all across Northern Ontario.

I extend my sincerest gratitude to NOSM’s passionate faculty – absolutely indispensable agents of inspiration to our future generation of health-care professionals.

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