NOSM has changed the medical landscape

It’s rewarding to see graduates providing care in the communities across Northern Ontario, says Dr. Roger Strasser. “We’re off to a good start, but there is still a lot more work to do.”

It’s been more than a decade since that day in 2005 when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty cut the ribbon at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and the charter class of 56 students started their studies.

That charter class and several others have graduated and are practising medicine. Many of them have remained in Northern Ontario.

NOSM’s founding dean, Dr. Roger Strasser, recently sat down with the Northern Ontario Medical Journal to talk about how the school has changed the medical landscape in Northern Ontario, as well as the myriad opportunities the school creates for young medical professionals.

Q. Do you think young doctors weigh opportunities to teach and research at NOSM when they consider setting up their practice in Northern Ontario?

A. Even before the school had its first graduates, we saw an improvement in recruitment, particularly in Sudbury and Thunder Bay because of the opportunity to be involved with the medical school.

That’s continued with our own graduates. In fact, many of our own graduates are now faculty members at the school, and some of them have academic leadership roles.

I think the answer is yes, the opportunities for teaching and research have helped to recruit and retain physicians, including our own graduates.

Q. What kind of job opportunities are there for teaching and research staff at NOSM?

A. With each new research project, there needs to be people to actually undertake the research.

You also need research assistants — they may be undergraduate students who are getting some experience in research or there may be graduates who may be looking for more experience to develop a research career.

There are job opportunities more generally in terms of the teaching. We have our own faculty members that we’ve recruited. A new faculty member started just last week.

We’re expanding opportunities for academics, and with the larger amount of research that’s happening in Northern Ontario, we’re recruiting more people to undertake that research.

Q. What kind of value do your teaching staff bring to Northern Ontario?

A. There’s value in terms of new knowledge and applying knowledge to the Northern Ontario context. But there’s also economic value as well. We just repeated last year the study looking at the economic impact of Northern Ontario School of Medicine on the communities of Northern Ontario, and last year’s budget was $43 million. The level of new economic activity was over $100 million. So more than a two-for-one multiplier effect. That’s another way in which the school contributes to employment. The studies we’ve done have shown this is an economic benefit not just to the large communities — Thunder Bay and Sudbury — but also to the other communities in Northern Ontario.

Q. The Northern Ontario School of Medicine is now more than a decade old. Can you paint a picture of how the school has improved doctor recruitment in Northern Ontario?

A. I would say as a result of Northern Ontario School of Medicine, access to health care has dramatically improved. And it’s not just about doctors.

The school is involved in medical education for sure, but also in the production of a range of other members of the health workforce, like registered dietitians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists (through partnerships with other universities).

But certainly there’s been quite a remarkable change. There was research we did a couple of years ago, where we followed up eight of the smaller rural/remote communities. Historically they were struggling to maintain medical services.

Other communities are still really not recruiting and retaining all of the physicians they need.

And we know that the majority of physicians in Northern Ontario are getting on in years, and with just a couple of good years on the stock exchange many of them may choose to retire. Therefore, we can’t rest on our laurels.

We’re off to a good start, but there is still a lot more work to do.

Q. What is NOSM focusing on going forward in terms of making sure there’s an appropriate number of doctors in each community in Northern Ontario?

A. We’re working with the communities. A centrepiece of what we do is what we call community engagement — asking the communities what are you expecting of your physicians, and then helping to identify what’s reasonable and what’s achievable, and working in partnership.

We also have a formal collaboration with HealthForceOntario whose role is marketing and recruitment of physicians and other members of the health workforce. We’re in the process of developing a similar relationship with the Ontario Hospital Association.

We’re looking to marshal the forces and work together with all of the key players to maximize the effectiveness we all have in improving recruitment and retention of health-care providers, and ultimately improving the health of people in Northern Ontario.

Q. You’ve been with NOSM since before the school was built. Has it been personally satisfying to see how the medical landscape in Northern Ontario has transformed thanks to the school?

A. It’s fantastic. It’s so wonderful really to have been involved — with many others — since before the school opened. Now it’s so rewarding to see graduates providing care in the communities across Northern Ontario, and really making a difference in the lives of people in Northern Ontario.

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