Northern Ontario School of Medicine is here to stay and possibly grow with new medical training disciplines

By Len Gillis,
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A public forum on the future of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) was told the newly formed, standalone NOSM University, has every intention of maintaining its academic relationships with hospitals and universities in both Sudbury and Thunder Bay.

It might even be able to expand at some point with initiatives such as a midwifery training program.

The NOSM University, which was created as the result of an act of the Ontario legislature in June, follows the insolvency of Laurentian University, which was declared earlier this year.

With NOSM operating out of both the Laurentian campus in Sudbury and the Lakehead University campus in Thunder Bay, it was decided NOSM would become its own degree-granting medical school.

NOSM will still maintain a physical presence on both campuses, as it has long-term leases on several buildings.

During an online forum held Tuesday afternoon, NOSM CEO, President and Dean Dr. Sarita Verma said there is every good reason to believe NOSM could expand its academic curriculum to include other medical professions.

Verma said much of modern health care already has physicians working with other health-care professionals in interprofessional and interdisciplinary settings. Family health teams, especially, have been created around that model.


She said NOSM is already involved in interprofessional education with programs for physician assistants and dietetics. She added NOSM also has “some involvement” in such disciplines as physiotherapy and medical physicists.

Verma said interest has also been expressed in programs for registered nursing, for personal support workers and more.

“We have a lot of people asking us, in fact, to look at midwifery, because Laurentian has closed that program. All of these opportunities are possible,” said Verma.

She quickly added that does not mean NOSM is setting out on an empire-building exercise.

“I would prefer that instead of doing what all institutions have done, which is to create their own empire, is to work with others who are already doing that work, and to create building the strength together for Northern Ontario, because it’s not about having a program and being a university and having that program in the university,” Verma told the forum.

“It’s about generating the workforce that’s needed to address the ills for Northern Ontario.”

She said there is no question that NOSM will continue to build the physician workforce. For Northern Ontario, Verma said, NOSM “is the only game in town” and it will continue to build and grow on that basis.

“But we will also look for opportunities to work with others, to really closely develop those relationships across all of Northern Ontario with nursing, dentistry, physiotherapy, even pharmacy,” said Verma, “and they are calling us because we’re so successful.”

She said changes like that will not happen overnight, as NOSM has enough work to get through in the immediate future.  

“I think what we’d like to do is just leave the doors open for that kind of growth,” said Verma. 

One of the questions at the forum was whether research would be included in the transition to NOSM University. Verma said yes. She said collaboration is the new form of competition. Verma said there would be success in partnerships.

“And if we were able to put together the two research institutes, the two hospitals, the two universities, the leading universities, but also all the other universities, as well as NOSM being essentially the glue, we would become a research powerhouse,” said Verma.

She said it would be worthwhile to create a research consortium to apply for funding for programs that are relevant across the North. 

“If we were able to take the themes that we are all doing and competing with each other for the same funding on indigenous health, on chronic disease on population health, on post pandemic health on public health,” Verma said.

“And if we were able to come along those themes and actually apply for collaborative funding, we would actually be a consortium that would be a force to be reckoned with.”

NOSM by the numbers

Physician needs:

  • Sioux Lookout is currently in need of 37 physicians, including 28 family doctors and nine specialists.
  • Four physicians, including six family doctors and eight specialists are needed in Kenora.
  • Three physicians are needed in Dryden, including two family doctors and one general surgeon.
  • Fort Frances currently needs four family doctors and one general surgeon.

Practising NOSM graduates:

  • There are 18 NOSM graduates practising in Sioux Lookout.
  • In Kenora, 13 NOSM graduates are currently practising.
  • Five NOSM graduates are practising in Dryden.
  • Fort Frances has four NOSM graduates practising in the community.

NOSM faculty members (physicians or health-care providers) are working and teaching in your community. There are 60 faculty members in Sioux Lookout, 54 in Kenora, 16 in Dryden, and 15 in Fort Frances.

Teaching occurs in a variety of locations:

Sioux Lookout: Meno Ya Win Health Centre, the Hugh Allen Clinic and at the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority. Since 2017, Sioux Lookout has welcomed more than 175 NOSM learners. 

Kenora: Lake of the Woods District Hospital, Sunset Country Family Health Team and the Paterson Medical Centre. Since 2017, Kenora has welcomed NOSM 162 learners.

Dryden: Dryden Regional Health Centre, Dryden Area Family Health Team, Northwestern Health Unit, and the Dingwall Medical Clinic. Since 2017, Dryden has welcomed 106 NOSM learners.

Fort Frances: Nelson Medicine Professional Corp. and Riverside Health Care Facilities. Since 2017, Fort Frances has welcomed 31 NOSM learners.