Thunder Bay

Northern Ontario School of Medicine delivers more doctors to the north

A researcher says more than half of the students graduating from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine are opting to stay in northern Ontario cities — and about a quarter are working in rural northern Ontario settings.

Research suggests doctors trained in northern Ontario stay in northern Ontario

Several graduates of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine opened the Aurora Family Health Clinic in Thunder Bay last year. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)
A researcher says more than half of the students graduating from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine are opting to stay in northern Ontario cities — and about a quarter are working in rural northern Ontario settings.
Elizabeth Wenghofer, the director of the School of Rural and Northern Health at Laurentian University, tracked 67 students from NOSM's first two graduating classes and compared them with 468 students who graduated from other Canadian medical schools during the same time period.
Elizabeth Wenghofer is the director of the School of Rural and Northern Health at Laurentian University. She found that 89 per cent of doctors from NOSM's first two graduating classes, who completed both their undergraduate and post-graduate training at the school, continued to practice in northern Ontario. (Laurentian University)

She found that 64 per cent of students who did both their undergraduate and post-graduate training at NOSM were working in urban settings in northern Ontario.  And 25 per cent were working in rural northern settings.

Her research revealed 70 per cent of students who did undergraduate training elsewhere — but completed their post-graduate training at NOSM — stayed in northern Ontario. 

By comparison, fewer than five per cent of students who did not study at NOSM were working in the north. 

"These are pretty big numbers," Wenghofer said.  "The big question is 'so how many of them stay?  After they've set up practice, will they stay for years?  That's the next thing we have to start looking at."

Not always 'a complete gain'  

Wenghofer said the numbers don't automatically suggest that everyone in northwestern Ontario will soon have a family doctor.

"As we get new people, of course, there are other people who leave," she said.

"There are other people who retire and move on.  It's never a complete gain. The other thing is, of course, where the physicians end up putting their practices. It's not necessarily in a small community."

Still, Wenghofer said the trend is positive.

The City of Thunder Bay employee charged with helping attract doctors to the community said NOSM has had a positive impact in town.
Brady Lucas is the community relations coordinator for the City of Thunder Bay. Part of his job involves helping attract doctors to the city. He said last year was a banner year with 14 new family physicians practising in town, many with ties to NOSM. (Brady Lucas)

"Last year was an exceptional year for Thunder Bay specifically because there were 14 new family physicians who started," said Brady Lucas, the City's community relations co-ordinator.

"A large percentage of those, at some point, were involved in the Northern Ontario School of Medicine."

Lucas said only one physician retired during the same period.  

"So there's still a positive net," he said.

At least two family physicians have announced plans to retire in 2015, Lucas added, but the city expects to see around five more join the ranks. 

NOSM welcomes its 10th anniversary cohort of students this week.


Northern Ontario School of Medicine graduates:  Where are they now?  

Data from the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons shows the number of NOSM grads practising in different locations across the province, as of April, 2015.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.