NOSM student enrolment expansion not enough – councillor

By Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

SUNDRIDGE – A Sundridge councillor agrees an announcement last month increasing enrolment at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) is good news, but “it’s not enough.”

“It’s a good start,” Coun. Steve Hicks says. “There are people who are happy about this but is shows they still don’t understand what’s actually happening.”

In March, Premier Doug Ford announced Ontario’s six medical schools will share 455 new medical seats over the next five years.

Of that, 160 will be undergraduate seats and the remaining 295 positions will be allocated to post-graduate studies.

Over that five-year period NOSM’s share of the total allocation is 41 new post-graduate seats plus 30 undergraduate positions.

The school, which has campuses in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, currently enrols 64 students and 60 first-year residents a year.

“There are people and communities that are suffering because they can’t get a doctor,” Hicks said. “What will it take for the medical schools and provincial-level decision makers to understand the crisis they’ve had over a number of years?”

Hicks said he doesn’t want to see the players in the field “put up their feet” as if the physician shortage is resolved with the March announcement.

Last June, Dr. Sarita Verma, the dean, president and CEO of NOSM, said Northern Ontario is short 326 physicians and that it would take five years to eliminate this shortage, assuming no existing practicing doctors leave the north or retire during this time frame.

Hicks believes there will still be a shortage in five years time.

Hicks says two areas, family medicine and geriatrics, continue to remain under-served and hopes new doctors coming from the medical schools will enter those fields.

Tara Hutchison is one of many medical students enrolled at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Soon she will be seeing even more students entering the school thanks to an Ontario government announcement that expands enrolment over the next five years. -Submitted Photo

In the meantime, he suggested Sundridge council continue to make waves over the physician shortage.
When Verma publicly talked about Northern Ontario’s doctor’s shortage, Sundridge council began a lobbying effort to have more seats created at NOSM.

That effort culminated with a resolution last November which was supported by a number of municipal councils in the north.

Hicks suggested that Mayor Lyle Hall could again put a resolution together calling for still more medical school positions with an accompanying letter to the decision-makers.

Hicks said he understood NOSM had to be gracious with the March announcement, but believes council should continue to remain involved to help with the creation of more medical school seats.

“I found we made some hay with the first letter and there’s an opportunity to do another one,” Hicks said.

However, Hicks’ suggestion remained on the debate table with no further action from council.

But Deputy Mayor Shawn Jackson said perhaps there’s a way Sundridge council can open a door with a cabinet minister in the future to discuss further medical school allocations.

Jackson was also optimistic the March announcement “could create positive change.”

In a letter to the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities, Verma thanked FONOM and the municipalities that lobbied for NOSM’s expansion.

Verma also indicated she’s looking forward to speaking at FONOM next month when it meets in North Bay.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.