Sudbury

Northern Ontario School of Medicine says it's up to the challenge of addressing physician shortage

Northern Ontario needs more than 300 new physicians to meet demand in the region, says the Ontario Medical Association.

NOSM has graduated over 800 physicians since 2005

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Sudbury, shown here, teamed with the Ontario Medical Association on Monday to speak about the challenge to address physician shortage. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Northern Ontario needs more than 300 new physicians to meet demand in the region, says the Ontario Medical Association.

In a joint news conference Monday with members of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), the OMA made 12 recommendations meant to address northern challenges and service gaps.

Key priorities include addressing the doctor shortage and providing more support for physicians in underserved areas.

Dr. Sarita Verma, NOSM's dean and chief executive officer, welcomed the recommendations, as they align with the school's mandate to train physicians who work in northern Ontario communities.

She said addressing the doctor shortage would be a big task, but she and the school are up to the challenge.

"That would be five graduating classes of the NOSM class," Verma said, referring to the over 300 physicians needed in the north. "We don't have that capacity right away, but in the long game we will have to be able to expand the medical school."

Since it was founded in 2005, Verma said, NOSM has graduated more than 800 physicians. Many of them have remained in northern Ontario, where they have practised as family physicians or specialists.

Dr. Sarita Verma, dean and CEO of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, says the school is up to the challenge of addressing the doctor shortage. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Dr. Sarah Newberry, NOSM's assistant dean of physician workforce strategy and a family physician in the community of Marathon, said the situation is dire in smaller municipalities.

"We can't actually afford to lose any physicians from the north now."

So it's important to provide them "with the supports that they need — both clinical incentives and also supports to do the work that they need to do, the mental health and addiction supports. We need to respond to the needs of clinicians now so that they'll stay," Newberry added.

Worse health outcomes

OMA president Dr. Adam Kassam said 89 per cent of people in northeastern Ontario, and 84 per cent of those in northwestern Ontario, have a family doctor. That is well below the provincial average, he said.

Life expectancy in northern Ontario is also between 2.5 and 2.9 years lower than the average for the province. 

In addition to its 12 recommendations for northern Ontario, the OMA has made five recommendations to improve health care in the province overall:

  • Reduce the backlog of services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Expand mental health and addictions programs.
  • Improve and expand home care and other community care.
  • Strengthen public health and pandemic preparedness.
  • Give every patient a team of health-care providers, and link them digitally.

With files from Martha Dillman

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