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Ontario Medical Review
Oct. 24, 2023
Sophie Nicholls Jones

OMA campaign, Value of Doctors, spotlights NOSM University’s success keeping doctors in the north

A six-part Ontario Medical Review series documents how physicians are at the helm of health-system innovation

Ontario’s north is amid a health-care crisis with emergency room closures and a physician shortage as the region’s 800,000 residents struggle to find equitable health resources, including primary care.

But one medical school is making headway helping fill the gaps. With campuses in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, NOSM University inspires medical students to stay in their northern Ontario communities as practising physicians, since attracting and retaining doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals in the north is a persistent problem.

The university’s work is being highlighted in a video series, Centred on Care, as part of the OMA’s campaign, Value of Doctors. In the first video, Dr. Sarita Verma, president, vice chancellor, dean and CEO of NOSM University, speaks to the university’s innovation and impact. Its model includes a four-week mandatory immersion program within an Indigenous community for medical students and other efforts to recruit and keep aspiring physicians in the region.

“As Canada’s first independent medical university, NOSM University remains laser-focused on what we’ve been doing for two decades: helping the people of northern Ontario live longer, healthier lives,” Dr. Verma said in an email interview.

“One of our primary efforts to address the health inequities in the north is our transformative approach to education, planning and delivery of workforce supply to reduce the gaps in northern Ontario’s health human resources.”

The university also establishes partnerships across the region uncovering new ways to address physician shortages, emergency room closures, government cutbacks, burnout and a high percentage of impending physician retirements, Dr. Verma said. So far, NOSM University has helped more than 400,000 people access a family doctor with its influential work. But more is needed, she said.

“This is an ongoing, multi-generational issue in the face of a grave truth: people in northern Ontario are chronically sicker and live shorter lives than people in the south,” Dr. Verma said.

“We believe that everyone, regardless of circumstance or geography, deserves the dignity of fair access to health-care practitioners who are culturally competent, lead with compassion and integrity, and understand the realities of living in the rural and remote north.”

NOSM University president, vice chancellor, dean and CEO, Dr. Sarita Verma with new graduates Sarah Hunt and Justin Roy and their families during convocation 2023.

The Centred on Care video series documents groundbreaking innovations of select Ontario doctors who have helped change the course of health care and impact patient lives beyond the clinic, hospital or operating room.

Stories shared are diverse in the care provided, patients served, specialty and geographic location. Through an across the life-span care perspective, viewers will hear from a variety of physicians who are leaders in their communities, having recognized an unmet need and taken it upon themselves to improve health-care challenges. The doctor-patient relationship is paramount with physicians providing critical care to their patients be they newly born or palliative, awaiting surgery, requiring mental health support or living in under-resourced communities.

“These videos are several shining examples of how Ontario’s doctors are delivering innovative and leading care for people in every corner of the province. They are inspiring examples of how our physicians are building a better health-care system,” said Craig DuHamel, executive vice-president of the Advocacy, Communications and Marketing department at the OMA.

Connecting to the OMA’s important advocacy efforts, the showcased work aligns with the OMA’s Prescription for Ontario: Doctor’s 5-Point Plan for Better Health Care report, its progress report outlining urgent health-care priorities – the primary care crisis, home- and community-based care and burnout and administrative burden – and a newly published report discussing the solutions required for health-care reform.  

“We are grateful to the OMA for leading campaigns that draw attention to the needs of northerners, such as the Prescription for northern Ontario. Health injustice is happening in our own backyards. Right now, thousands of Ontarians are experiencing a health-care crisis,” Verma said.
“We hope all Ontarians will join us in imagining a future with a strong health-care system without doctor shortages, and where everyone has access to the quality care they deserve, closer to home. Together, we can help marshal doctors to where they’re needed most.”

The Value of Ontario’s Doctors campaign will run throughout the fall with two more Centred on Care videos released, and continue into next year, post OMA elections.

Photo credit: NOSM University