Alleviating critical health-care shortages during the pandemic: Case study in Hearst

Hearst Artwork
Across the world, the ongoing pandemic is stretching health-care and front-line workers very thin, leaving rural hospitals with difficult decisions to make. The NOSM Summer Studentship Program helped alleviate a critical shortage in Hearst, where it was an ‘all hands on deck’ approach as COVID-19 cases escalated in the Porcupine Health Unit district.

“This spring we were in a nursing shortage crisis, and it’s a good thing we had the students to help or we would’ve had to close some departments,” says Marylène Comeau, Recruitment Coordinator at Hôpital Notre-Dame in Hearst. The hospital in Hearst hired five applicants, four full-time nursing students and one full-time lab technician student. The program is a collaborative approach to recruiting health professionals and ensuring home-grown health human resources where they’re needed most. 

“This strategic program provides the opportunity for students pursuing careers in health care to train at home and encouraged them to come back. It strengthens our qualified health resources and helps alleviate the critical health-care shortage in our region,” Marylène explains. “It also gives students strong skills, expanded experience and a good idea for what it’s like to work here at home.” 

Hôpital Notre-Dame has hosted students for more than six years. The NOSM Summer Studentship Program, which was established by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, enables regulated health-care students an opportunity to gain relevant work experience in their field of study. The program provides funding to Northern agencies to hire students who were born and/or raised in Northern Ontario. Eligible health-care professions include medicine, nursing, rehabilitation, and pharmacy.

Marylène hopes that in future, communities with the largest health human-resource demand will be at the top of the list for support. 

“Rural and remote communities that don’t have the resources to hire summer students should receive priority because they are most in need, with the fewest resources. Evidence shows that our best method for recruitment and retention in small communities is to have our people return and practise here.” 

In the past few years, Hôpital Notre-Dame has resorted to hiring English-speaking nurses and physicians, however those hired through the NOSM Summer Studentship Program have been bilingual, improving access to care for the large Francophone population in the area. 

Clinical sites in Northern Ontario are encouraged to apply for funding through NOSM’s Summer Studentship Program to help recruit and retain future health professionals. In 2021, there were 96 applicants to the program and 92 were approved to go to placements. There were 64 placements funded through NOSM with approximately 61 students will be placed in positions across the region. 

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