Nova Scotia

Dalhousie medical school adds 16 seats specifically for N.S. students

The Nova Scotia government is funding the creation of 16 seats at Dalhousie University's medical school specifically for students from the province. Four of the seats will be in place for the coming school year. The remaining 12 will be added next year. 

The hope is that by recruiting students from Nova Scotia, they will be more likely to stay and practise here

The province says the seats will be used to recruit students to the Dalhousie medical school from rural areas as well as students from Indigenous and African-Nova Scotian communities.  (CBC)

The public has been suggesting it for years, and now the Nova Scotia government is creating 16 seats at Dalhousie University's medical school specifically for students from the province.

"We hear from people that they want their children to have access to a program here in Nova Scotia," said Premier Stephen McNeil.

"This is exciting news for our province, it's where we believe — quite frankly — we'll get the best results of retaining those students in our province by ensuring that our medical school reflects who we are."

The additional seats will be earmarked for students from rural areas and for those with African Nova Scotian or Indigenous backgrounds. 

"We're going to have more doctors being trained in Nova Scotia and we have the greatest chance to recruit and retain physicians in our province if we train them here at Dalhousie," said Dr. David Anderson, dean of the medical school. 

"Diversity really is very, very important. When a patient goes to see a physician, it's great that they can see themselves in that person, someone that understands where they're coming from."

There are 440 students enrolled in the medical school.

'Something we need to address'

Anderson said there are just 13 of African Nova Scotian descent and 12 who are Indigenous. There are no status Mi'kmaw students at the moment. 

"That is a gap and something we need to address."

Anderson said the key to recruitment in under-represented communities is to show teenagers that medical school is achievable. For the past few years, Dalhousie has hosted spring break and summer camps for teenagers from diverse backgrounds.

"In Nova Scotia, your chance of getting into medical school is good and we want students to aspire to be able to do that."

Four of the new seats have already been filled ahead of this year's academic year with rural students. The additional dozen will be in place for next fall.

McNeil said the delay is to give Dalhousie time to adjust to the increased enrolment. 

"This is the number that we felt we can add now which will deal with the need, but will also allow us to continue the high level of standard for the program," McNeil said.

Training a Dal med student costs $75,000 per year

Each year, Dalhousie will see an increase in funding until all 16 seats are filled for each of the medical school classes. By 2023-24, the annual investment will increase to $4.8 million.

It costs about $75,000 per year to train one student. 

The money comes at a time when Dalhousie is dealing with the financial blow of losing medical residents from Saudi Arabia. The country has stopped sending participants because of a diplomatic dispute. 

"This will help, to some extent, balance the loss with the Saudi residents that have left," said Anderson. "We're down 10 this year, compared to last year, and we have no new Saudi residents coming from Saudi Arabia. So their numbers are down and they're not being replaced."

While the creation of the new seats will help boost Nova Scotia graduates, there's still no guarantee the students will stay in the province. There's no return-of-service agreement tied to the spots and, after their formal education, residencies are determined by a national program.

School to have 94 seats

McNeil said it's a problem, but points to recent additions to the number of residency placements in Nova Scotia. 

He said the province is in discussions with Dalhousie and other partners to determine if there are other ways to "ensure that Nova Scotian kids that are trained elsewhere have a path" back to Nova Scotia.

Anderson said the province's best chance for success in the long term is to have Dalhousie students land residencies in the province. He says those students have an 80 per cent retention rate. 

Once in place, there will be 94 seats at Dalhousie medical school in total. This is the first time since 2008 the school has added seats. 

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