Medical school's dietitian program gets full funding

When it comes to putting dieticians where they are needed in northern Ontario, the province is putting its money where its mouth is.

More northern Ontario dietitian vacancies being filled by northern medical school students

When it comes to putting dietitian where they are needed in northern Ontario, the province is putting its money where its mouth is.

The future of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine’s dietetic internship program recently received full funding from the Ministry of Health and Longterm care.

Until the recent funding announcement, the program’s internship co-ordinator said the school would submit funding proposals a few times each year.

Denise Raftis said she thinks the permanent funding is due in part to the success of pairing graduating dietitians with local jobs.

"When I think of the commitment that all our community agencies have given us, they’ve demonstrated the commitment to continue to sustain a program like ours," she said.

"[They] have valued that our graduates are staying in the north."

Lesley McBain recently graduated from the dietician program at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. (Hilary Duff/CBC)

85% of grads stay in northern Ont.

The 46-week program trains students to become dietitians in rural and urban northern Ontario.

Last week, 12 new dietitians graduated from the program, including Lesley McBain.

"I’m not from northern Ontario," she explained.

"So moving here I realized how much more expensive and how much harder it is to get access to food here even in Sudbury than it is from where I’m from in southern Ontario."

This is the sixth class to graduate from the program, and since the province decided to fully fund it, it won’t be the last.

Dietetic interns spend 46 weeks doing a variety of placements — from local long-term care homes to First Nations communities.

About 85 per cent of the program’s 75 graduates have stayed in northern Ontario, Raftis said.

That retention rate is being noticed by established dietitians.

"We have probably close to capacity in most positions that were vacant in the past," Sudbury dietician Joanne Beyers said.

"We’re now doing a really great job of filling them with dietitians. That’s great."

Challenges for dietitians working in northern Ontario include issues of isolation and food security, Beyers said.