Northern Ontario School Leads Fight against Physician Shortages


The National Association of Medicine in Ontario shifts the spotlight toward a northern Ontario’s medical university as part of its new initiative. The Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), singularly distinct as a standalone academic institution, emerges at the helm of a seven-part series engineered by the Ontario Medical Association. This series brings into focus triumphant narratives of physicians dispersed throughout the province.

Renowned for its relentless efforts in addressing the persistent dearth of doctors plaguing northern Ontario, NOSM has played an instrumental role in the province’s healthcare sector. Remarks Dr. Sarita Verma, president and vice-chancellor of the university, on the remarkable trajectory of the institution, “Gauges indicate that a staggering 400,000 individuals have availed healthcare due to the contributions of NOSM graduates. The trend seems to be that if their residency stays pervasive, a majority continue to serve in northern Ontario.”

No demographic is left behind at NOSM, as evident in the fact that 17 per cent of total graduates proudly identify as Indigenous while 25 per cent as Franco-Ontarian. Dr. Verma, amidst her pride, suggests that their performance is unmatched in Canada. “Schools across the country are now seeking our secret recipe for success,” she says.

The impact of NOSM, although only an 18-year-old institution, is breathtaking, asserts Verma. However, she admits that their successful journey, captured in a video, doesn’t absolve them of the challenges that wait ahead. The scarcity of doctors in northern Ontario, which she refers to as a ‘crisis’, is a testament to that.

Circumscribing the scope of the problem, she claims that northern Ontario requires at least 360 doctors, a figure that she feels might be an underestimation. “And it’s not just family doctors that we need. Waiting for a psychiatrist could extend to two years, while waiting for a specialist to treat your arthritis can stretch between six months and two years. The need is palpable and pressing,” she explains.

The lack of doctors constitutes a problem whose root runs deep within not just the province but the entire nation. Dr. Verma suggests that an approximate eight million Canadians lack a family physician. The OMA, on the other hand, estimates that a chunk of two million out of these belong to Ontario alone.

Dr. Andrew Park, president of OMA, emphasizes the detrimental consequences of not having a family doctor. “Patients are robbed of proper care, especially in the prevention sector and those diseases that demand quarterbacking of care,” he says.

He further clarifies that the purpose of the campaign, in addition to lauding physicians’ wins, is informing the public. “We, physicians, are committed to finding solutions to these profound complexities,” Park says.

Dr. Verma highlights how the scarcity of doctors in northern Ontario proves especially challenging, juxtaposing it with the surplus of medical alternatives available in downtown Toronto. Yet, she remains hopeful and is currently working towards conciliation with the faculty and staff union. She is optimistic about resolving any differences and works with a unified aim of prioritizing the students.

Dr. Verma believes resolution is a matter of dialogue and mutual understanding, a process she optimistically assumes will take only a few months.


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