Forcing doctors home won't work, says group

P.E.I. should not force Island medical students from Memorial University to come home to practice, says a group representing medical students in Canada.

The group representing medical students in Canada says P.E.I. shouldn't force Island medical students who attend Memorial University to come home to practise.

P.E.I. should be considering other ways of attracting doctors, says Will Stymiest of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. (CBC)

Island taxpayers pay $800,000 a year to the Newfoundland medical school. Part of that funding guarantees four Island students a seat in the program each year.

The cost is about $50,000 per student annually. That money goes directly to the university to help defray the cost of tuition for all students, not just Islanders. None of the provincial money is used to reduce tuition costs for P.E.I. med students.

"The government is paying $50,000 per medical student here at Memorial, which is important because we don't have a medical school on P.E.I.," said student Lindsey Ward.

The problem is, for the 11 years that the government has been paying for seats at Memorial, only one student has returned to the Island to work long-term.

Health Minister Doug Currie said asking graduates to practise for three years on P.E.I. is the best way for Islanders to see a return on that money.

"We have access issues to family physicians, and if we're going to spend that level of resources of public money, we need to have a better level of performance on our return investment," Currie said Wednesday.

The minister was in Newfoundland last weekend talking to students about practising on P.E.I. He told CBC News Monday that it wasn't well-received.

Taxpayers aren't getting a return on investment if medical students don't return to the Island to practice medicine, says Health Minister Doug Currie. (CBC)

Will Stymiest of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students said forcing new physicians to work anywhere does not ease the physician shortage.

"It'll just become a revolving door of physicians coming and then once their term is over they leave the province," he told CBC News.

Currie said Islanders are not getting much from the current investment at Memorial University.

"We've made millions and millions of dollars in investment with the return of potentially one student in the last 10 years," Currie said. "So as the minister I think it is a fair question to look at opportunities to capture a return on [the] investment ... we are making."

Stymiest didn't agree.

"University education in Canada is a publicly-funded system. It is funded by provinces and by governments. I think this is just a part of that in a professional capacity," Stymiest said.

Currie disagrees with the federation, saying costs per capita for medical students are nowhere near the costs of a university degree.

He added Island students can attend any other medical school with no strings attached.

"Those students that choose to compete with students at the University of Toronto, and Queens [University] and the University of Ottawa have every right to do that and wash on their opportunity at Memorial, so that's their prerogative," Currie said.

Students say they'd be more likely to come back to the Island if the province offered them more training and shadowing opportunities in Island hospitals and clinics.

"There are wonderful physicians and teachers on P.E.I. who are willing to take us on as students, but these opportunities are denied to us," said Ward. "In fact, last year I was told if I wanted to shadow, I'd have to organize a shadowing myself."

The province does offer a residency program through Dalhousie University, but Currie said he still thinks his plan for Memorial students is the right one.

He said a lot of discussions still need to take place between his government and Memorial before any medical students are required to return to P.E.I. to work.