New figures from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), with campuses in Thunder Bay and Sudbury suggest that 94 per cent of the students who completed their doctor of medicine and residency programs in the north, are staying there.

The medical school, which was officially opened in 2005, was established with the goal of training and retaining doctors to practice in rural and northern areas.

"The rural practice is enticing," said Dr. Brian Lorbetskie who grew up in eastern Ontario, but worked in a variety of northwestern Ontario communities as a physiotherapist.

The recent graduate of NOSM began practicing in Dryden, approximately 350 kilometres west of Thunder Bay, in 2016.

Dr. Bruce Cook grew up in Dryden, a city of approximately 8,000 with access to plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities.

Job of rural physician 'enticing, daunting'

It was a desire to return to that lifestyle which prompted Cook, who was working as a chemist in London, Ont., at the time, to apply to NOSM's inaugural class. He and Lorbetskie are colleagues at the Dryden Regional Health Centre.

Both men agree the training they received at NOSM, especially the fact the students work in smaller communities through their second and third year of study, helped prepare them for life as rural physicians.

"There certainly is a difference between being a rural family doctor and being a city family doctor and I think that exposure shows people that variety of lifestyle and medicine that people can expect," said Cook.

You are basically asked to be a jack-of-all-trades and spread yourself across a number of areas and there's quite a steep learning curve  - Dr. Brian Lorbetskie, Dryden Regional Health Centre

"For a new graduate, I can tell you it's both exciting and daunting to enter into a rural practice where you are basically asked to be a jack-of-all-trades and spread yourself across a number of areas and there's quite a steep learning curve in terms of learning to deal with all the different areas of medicine, and how to be successful within your practice and still have a life outside," said Lorbetskie.

In smaller northern Ontario communities family physicians assist in surgeries, take shifts in the emergency department, run the fracture clinic and are on-call to deliver babies.

"Being exposed to these types of environments, these types of community hospitals very early on in your medical school career and then throughout your medical school career prepares you for what to expect as a rural family physician," said Cook.

'Striving' to achieve work-life balance

But as with any job, "we are certainly striving" to achieve that work-life balance, said Cook.

"We try to help each other achieve that as well by covering each other at certain times and making sure that people are getting time off to enjoy this wonderful place to live," he said.

As a newer physician, Lorbetskie said he is still learning "what you have to do when and how quickly you have to work to free up your time to be able to have balance."

"But I think it is possible and I see my colleagues here have achieved that and I'm hopeful I'll get there as well," said Lorbetskie.

The report from NOSM states that since 2011, more than 160 NOSM educated family doctors have begun practicing in northern communities.