The dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine says there's an ongoing demand for new doctors trained in various specialties in northwestern Ontario, despite a national study's findings that some recent medical graduates are having trouble finding work in their fields.   

Dr. Roger Strasser

The dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Dr. Roger Strasser, says there is plenty of demand for medical specialists in northwestern Ontario. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

Last week, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada reported that one-in-six newly certified medical graduates in Canada say they can't find a position in their specialty areas.  

But NOSM dean Roger Strasser said the study was limited in scope and the findings were only broken down to a provincial level. They did not examine the supply and demand of medical specialists in specific regions like northwestern Ontario. 

 "I think it's important when you look at the study not to jump to conclusions," he told CBC News, adding the study doesn't consider how the demand for various types of specialized medicine might change in the future. 

Strasser said medical specialists who have the most difficulty finding jobs are likely located in other larger urban centres in the province.  

Dr. Stewart Kennedy, executive vice-president of academic and medical affairs at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, agreed.

Dr. Stewart Kennedy

Dr. Stewart Kennedy, executive vice-president of academic and medical affairs at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, says northwestern Ontario is finally gaining much-needed medical specialists. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"Sometimes [specialists are] unable to find a position in a locality that they want," Kennedy said. "So I think we really have to look at the distribution of physicians [geographically]."

'Advantage' in northwestern Ontario

Kennedy said NOSM is accomplishing its goal to graduate much-needed physicians and specialists to work at the hospital and in the region.  

"We had challenges with human resources for a good number of years," he said. "We have increased medical student enrolment by ... 40 or 50 per cent over the past eight years, because we've had such shortages," he said.

"It's playing to our advantage in northwestern Ontario because we are able to recruit top, talented doctors [who], at one point ... always wanted to stay in an academic centre in eastern Ontario."  

Strasser said the Royal College report shows the need for better medical workforce planning at the national level to ensure doctors are trained in the specialties where there is projected demand, and available to work in the geographic areas where they are needed.    

"It's really looking to plan for — and ensure the supply of — the right physicians with the right skills in the right places ... across Canada."

Kennedy said right now, Thunder Bay Regional is well-staffed in some specialties like neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery, but the hospital needs more emergency physicians and psychiatrists. It is also recruiting vascular surgeons and anesthetists.         

Cautions against 'knee-jerk reaction'

Both Kennedy and Strasser emphasized that, even though a certain specialty area may not have vacancies right now, it can change by the time a current medical student is ready to practise.

They said specialists may retire or move elsewhere, or hospital resources may change. For example, if hospitals have the money to open up more operating rooms, they could accommodate more surgeons.        

Strasser said it would be a mistake for politicians to assume the Royal College study means too many physicians are being trained.  

"It would be, I think, very unfortunate if there's a sort of knee-jerk reaction at the political level which leads to a reduction again in the production of doctors," he said.  

Strasser said such a move could put the province back into the dire physician shortage it faced in the 1990s.