Thunder Bay

Northern Ontario medical school paying off for Dryden

Reaching out to medical students from the North is key to attracting — and keeping — new doctors

New graduates are helping to ease the family doctor shortage in the community

New physicians recruited for Dryden work at the Dryden Regional Health Centre. (CBC)

The family doctor shortage plaguing the Northwest is starting to ease up in Dryden.

The community has recruited four new graduates from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). 

One of the new recruits is Dr. Adam Moir, who believes most of his classmates want to practise in the region.

Dryden patient Josephine Crandell says she feels blessed to finally have a family doctor. Dr. Adam Moir hails from the Northern Ontario School of Medecine. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"I think, very soon, the impact [of having physicians] will be felt in these northern communities … because of these graduates from NOSM," Moir said. "The majority of people (NOSM graduates) are going to stay in northern Ontario because most of them are from northern Ontario to begin with."

Originally from Thunder Bay, Moir said he knew as a student he wanted to practice medicine in the north, but didn't know where.

He said as soon as he visited Dryden, residents and businesses made him feel welcome. 

Commmunity's attitude helpful

"The whole community is on board for recruiting in Dryden," Moir said.

"When I was first [came to Dryden] people ... at the restaurant were saying 'oh, you should move here.’"

He said he received free dessert once they discovered he was a medical student.

One of Moir's first patients, Josephine Crandell, said she didn't have a family doctor for years.

"It's wonderful having the same doctor all the time," she said. "I feel blessed."

Chuck Schmitt is the physician recruiter for Dryden. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Dryden's physician recruiter, Chuck Schmitt, said the community's attitude is a big help.

Schmitt said he specifically reaches out to medical students at NOSM, because many of them come from the region.

He said people who already know the north are more likely to stay.       

"If we look at the last ... physicians we've signed, they're from Ear Falls, they're from Sioux Lookout, Dryden, [and] Thunder Bay," he said.

"Those are the people you don't have to sell on what it's like to live in the north."

Money can't be everything

Dr. Mark Dahmer, who has been a family doctor in Dryden for more than 25 years, agrees.

He has seen many doctors come and go and said focusing recruitment efforts on NOSM students makes sense.

Dahmer added that recruiting strategies must go beyond financial incentives if communities want to keep new family doctors for the long term.

Dr. Mark Dahmer, who has been a family doctor in Dryden for more than 25 years, says for new doctors to stay, they need to feel an attachment to the community and to their practice. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"If you recruit with money, at the end of that contract ... those people can usually find someplace else to get more money again," Dahmer said. "And so it's a short-term and ... usually a frustrating situation, because you go to the work of integrating those physicians and, all the sudden, they're gone again."

Dahmer said to retain new doctors, they need to feel an attachment to the community and to their practice. 

 "Using money to attract people who otherwise wouldn't have come is not the way to go," he said.

Dahmer said older doctors need to play an active role in recruitment by ensuring new doctors feel supported.