Embodying health justice
Over the past 20 years, NOSM University has made considerable progress in helping to fill the health-care gaps in Northern Ontario. NOSM has educated 780 MDs; 55 self-identify as Indigenous and 165 self-identify as Francophone. This spring, another 58 MD graduates will join this impressive group. In addition, 692 resident physicians have completed NOSM programs. More than half of these doctors have stayed in Northern Ontario, with the majority establishing their practice in Sudbury and Thunder Bay.
However, it is particularly the case that rural and remote areas in the North are still medically underserved, and the fact remains that, due to a lack of consistent health care close to home, people in the region are still on average more likely to live sicker lives and die younger than people in the south.
This is inherently wrong. Geography should not be a defining factor in the quality and length of a life.
The inequities in our health-care system should not be borne by people who suffer with more chronic illness per capita than in the rest of the province, and yet they are. Neither should they be borne by those who haven’t the means, ability or desire to travel for care, but that is the picture in Northern Ontario. The sad fact remains that for many expectant First Nations mothers in the North, even a healthy birth typically happens away from community, family and support. “Indigenous people in Canada experience striking inequities in access to birth close to home compared with non-Indigenous people,” says a recent study. Thankfully, the same study indicates that “the striking isolation, family disruption and racism experienced by Indigenous people who are forced to travel alone for birth as a result of externally imposed federal ‘evacuation for birth’ policies” are finally facing some pushback.
NOSM University understands the challenges, and knows the solutions to these problems. Together with our partners, and always through a lens of social accountability, we will find ways to bring health justice to the North.
Dr. Sarah Newbery reflects on what it’s like for her some days as a family doctor in Northern
Ontario, moving from the hospital emergency room, to a clinic, to an assessment centre, to a home visit, trying to hold it all together for her patients. She also reflects on the inevitable consequences of working in an environment that is chronically under-resourced.
Read more in her 2022 article for Healthy Debate.