Dr. Sarita Verma

A year in review.
Meeting the NOSM Challenge.

This Year in Review report highlights some of the important work and milestones of 2021. What a year it has been! If someone had told me in July 2019 that I would be navigating NOSM through a pandemic, the insolvency of Laurentian University, and a transition from a medical school to a university, I would have likely run in the other direction. Fast forward to the last month of 2021, I am sprinting towards one of the most exciting transitions in Canadian history.

In November 2020, NOSM launched its strategic plan, The NOSM Challenge 2025, following an extensive consultation. Having been at NOSM for less than 16 months, it was an ambitious undertaking to say the least. What made it possible, however, was the valuable input, commitment and engagement from NOSM faculty, staff, and students, partners, and the Northern Ontario communities that took part in the consultation process. By listening to all perspectives and learning, key priorities began to take shape. A common concern, whether in Red Lake or Huntsville, was that communities across the North share longstanding issues related to health inequities. 

In my previous reports—Community and Transformation—I’ve shared examples of how NOSM is addressing these issues through the goals and outcomes identified in our strategic plan. In addition to these quarterly reports, a website has been developed that demonstrates the progress we are making through key performance metrics. Our stories of 2021 are fantastic and plentiful. You can read more about our journey through the links in this report. Enjoy this faster, shorter and more modern way for us to tell you all about NOSM.

From the innovative and distinctive pedagogies that NOSM faculty have developed in addressing the gaps during COVID-19, to the student-focused experiential learning at a time when we were all social distancing, I am very proud of our lean but mighty team and the tangible progress we have made in meeting The NOSM Challenge 2025. The management of COVID-19 by a team of real superheroes was nothing short of genius. NOSM persisted in pivoting, screening, sanitizing, vaccinating, and masking, as we dealt with seismic shifts in our work and learning spaces. All the while, addressing inequity and advocating for social justice and climate change remained unwavering themes in 2021.

NOSM is now leading Canada in developing new pathways to medicine—the Rural Generalist Pathway, Indigenous Health Practitioner Pathway, Francophone Health Practitioner Pathway—and we have made major advances with Indigenous and Northern outreach. We are leading bold changes to ensure a sustainable future of quality health care that addresses underserved populations and health inequities. We’ve reassessed the School’s admissions processes and will continue to advocate for an expansion of our MD program. As we go forward to becoming a University our commitment to accessibility for students in Northern Ontario and for communities aspiring to “grow their own” will remain steadfast.

We continued our work in challenging discrimination, confronting racism, and addressing inequities. Through the implementation of The Respect the DifferenceTM movement, a new code of respect and the initiatives of students, faculty and staff, NOSM is creating many intercultural learning opportunities that are fostering a safe, healthy and inclusive learning and working environment. NOSM’s advocacy for the underserved and marginalized streams string under our banner of social accountability.

Importantly, our commitment to improve support for NOSM students is a key focus. We are working to ease the burden of student debt and improve access to medical school through the direct support of new bursaries and scholarships. Ultimately, we will always work to reduce the financial stress and alleviate the pressure on medical students. The focus on learners has led to the establishment of a Registrar’s and Learner Support Services Offices and has shown up in our accreditation of the MD program as an area of strength. Continuous Quality Improvement with a successful report from the Committee on Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools (CACMS) and the recently completed PGME accreditation by the Royal College and the College of Family Physicians of Canada are testament to the quality of our programs.

Research is flourishing and NOSM entered the second year offering the Master of Medical Studies (MMS) program which provides foundational research skills for physicians who want to develop a robust approach to answering health-care questions. Of note, NOSM is one of ten globally recognised and verified socially accountable organisations.

Despite the challenges by the threats to animal care and research funding from the CCAA by Laurentian University, NOSM’s research leadership made inroads into big data and population health. The CCAA issue has kept us very busy trying to manage misinformation, financial impact on our endowments and legal protections. This is ongoing and, like COVID-19, will carry into 2022.

Taking on the mission to become Canada’s first stand-alone medical university is a big deal, and one that we accept with enthusiasm. People are excited, engaged and ready to help NOSM fulfill its true potential as an integrative leader in innovation across all of Northern Ontario.

In my travels from Thunder Bay to Kenora, Fort Frances, Sioux Lookout, Hearst, Kapuskasing, Sudbury, Timmins, Sturgeon Falls, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Parry Sound and Huntsville, I have consulted widely about NOSM University. I have met with leaders, physician teachers, resident doctors, medical students, alumni, community-based researchers, Indigenous and Francophone leaders and so many more amazing people who work on the frontline every day. For me, this has been about listening, learning and respecting. Importantly, it’s been about transparency and honest conversations.

The work of our faculty and sites is immense, in fact, is crucial to the success of our endeavours. Northern Lights, Northern Constellations and the Northern Health Research Conference were all virtual and highly successful this year. Clinical resources and daily snapshots from the CEPD leadership have revolutionised the way for faculty development and just-in-time learning.

As we make the journey to becoming NOSM University, our public consultation is employing a range of strategies to foster trust as a critical element in long-term, sustainable engagement. With trust, comes relationships that respect the right of partners to be informed and empowered. Existing partners want to participate in the vision for NOSM University and new partners are eager to join in the movement. Our ultimate goal is reciprocity—relationships with partners and communities across Northern Ontario that are mutually beneficial. NOSM University will make a huge impact as we continue our momentum and build on our successes in the future.

I hope you are well informed, engaged and are able to sufficiently contribute your thoughts and ideas knowing your opinion is valued and heard. If you are not receiving my bi-weekly updates through my Northern Routes blogs, please subscribe. These blogs provide updates, highlights and achievements of activity taking place at NOSM. Starting at zero in July 2019, readership has now grown to more than 4,500 subscribers from NOSM, partners and Northern Ontario community members.

Thank you all for helping us meet the NOSM Challenge 2025 and for coming together and forming the most magnificent team of real-life superheroes.

Together let’s make the impossible, possible. Next year, in 2022, let’s make history!


Dr. Sarita Verma
Dean, President and CEO