NOSM and Northern Ontario communities develop strategic plan

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

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

A few months ago, I was very excited to welcome three physicians from Japan’s Nagasaki University – Drs. Ryota Nakaoke, Shunsuke Imadachi, and Naoki Harada – to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM).

Like Northern Ontario, Hirado Island in Japan has struggled with physician recruitment and retention due to its diverse geography and relative remoteness. Our guests came to see if our school’s model could be implemented in Japan to influence recruitment and retention as NOSM has in Northern Ontario.

During their visit, we asked the physicians about their impressions of NOSM’s non-traditional approach to medical education and research.

“All Japanese want to be the same, equal,” Dr. Nakaoke said. “I came here to learn how NOSM ensures that all community sites are uniform. Over the last few days, I have learned that none of NOSM’s sites are the same.”

For a moment, it almost seemed as though Dr. Nakaoke was disappointed— that NOSM’s model wouldn’t work in Japan.

“Since I’ve been here, NOSM has shown me that different is good,” Dr. Nakaoke said, with a slow smile. “Each site is unique, which adds to the value of the students’ experiences. At NOSM, you celebrate the differences of each community. That is very impressive to me.”

Needless to say, it was a welcome relief that Dr. Nakaoke and his colleagues hadn’t travelled to NOSM for naught! I believe that what he witnessed was social accountability and community engagement at work – two of the very qualities about the school that make it proudly different from its more traditional predecessors.

Over the last few months, the associate dean of community engagement, Dr. David Marsh, and I— upported by our NOSM colleagues—have had the enormous pleasure of travelling across the North to speak with citizens of more than 50 unique communities. During the month of August alone, David and I travelled to Sundridge, Burks Falls, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Parry Sound, Espanola, Blind River, Thessalon, Sioux Lookout, Atikokan, Fort Frances, Emo, Kenora, Red Lake, and Deer Lake to discuss the future of the school.

We also held five separate meetings in each of Thunder Bay and Sudbury. In itself, such an extensive process of community engagement is extremely unique for medical schools.

Our goal has been to collaborate with communities across the North in the development of our next strategic plan for 2015 to 2020 – our ‘2020 Vision’. During each community visit, we discuss the progress of the school to date and ask community members, including health professionals, to identify and rank the school’s priorities for the latter half of this decade. Each town has given us important insight into the unique needs of their community.

In Kapuskasing, community members emphasized the ongoing need for Francophone health-care professionals.

Approximately 68 per cent of Kapuskasing’s population identify French as their first language, so the need for services in French is paramount.

In Marathon, physicians contemplated the future of health care in the North. There was great interest in the ways that NOSM could expand upon teaching health professionals to be positive agents of change in their communities.

They discussed how health professionals could address social determinants of health through the practice of preventative, rather than reactive, medicine.

In Wawa, community members discussed the town’s aging population. More than 25 per cent of the citizens of Wawa are over the age of 65. Care of the elderly will become a matter of increasing importance in the years to come.

Community members in Wawa were interested in hosting NOSM students with a specific interest in care of the elderly.

In Burks Falls, community members were concerned about access to health care. They said that there are people close by – north of Sundridge – who live without power. In their community, there was great interest in research that seeks to understand the challenges of health care delivery relative to one’s environment, particularly in remote areas.

In Chapleau at NOSM’s fourth Aboriginal Community Partnership Gathering, a passionate community member from Brunswick House First Nation discussed the importance of cultural competency – a priority of NOSM’s education since the school’s inception. As we continue to work toward eliminating barriers for Aboriginal peoples in accessing health care, cultural competency training must remain a priority.

These are but a very few examples of the community feedback we have recently heard. There have been countless other suggestions, all carefully recorded and considered as the plan develops. As we refine our strategic priorities based on community feedback, I have been ever so grateful for the varied voices across the North that have helped us understand the diverse needs of Northern Ontarians with clarity.

Like different and distinct brush strokes on a canvas, Northern Ontarians are painting a new picture of the future of health care that they hope becomes reality. As an equally unique organization here to serve you, NOSM’s role is to turn your hopes into plans.

In the words of our Japanese visitor, Dr. Nakaoke: different is good. I am so excited to continue to work together with you for a healthier North. With so many heads together, I can’t wait to see what our future holds.

Filed in: Commentary

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