NOSM University Undergoes Historic Expansion

Doctors posing for photo

This last year has carried NOSM University through an incredible season of change. On April 1, 2022, we were proclaimed Canada’s only independent medical university. But that wasn’t all. With the winds of Queen’s Park blowing in our favour, NOSM University will undergo unprecedented growth. In March 2022, a historic expansion to the number of medical seats was announced; then, in April 2023, additional seats were announced. This means we can accept more MD students and residents into our programs. Through a gradual, incremental approach, we will offer a total of 108 seats, nearly doubling the capacity of our MD program; at the same time, we will go from 60 postgraduate positions to 123 by 2028.

According to NOSM University’s estimates, more than 350 physicians are needed in the North. That number does not factor retirements that may take place over the next five years.

NOSM University’s latest strategic plan, The NOSM University Challenge 2025, prioritizes health human resources planning as its first Strategic Direction. We will move forward with addressing the urgent physician workforce shortage, innovating health professions education, and strengthening research capacity while embedding social accountability throughout.

“This is another important step in transforming the health-care system in Northern Ontario to eliminate the gaps in health human resources and create equitable access to care,” says Dr. Sarita Verma. “We cannot underestimate the impact that Northern Ontarians make when they pull together and advocate for change. I want to particularly acknowledge the Ontario Medical Association, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association and their members. Municipalities, big, small and all, have had loud voices heard at Queen’s Park.”

As part of this growth, new residency programs have launched in Addiction Medicine and Sport and Exercise Medicine and a partnership supports Obstetrics and Gynecology residents who choose to live and work in Northern Ontario.

A collaboration between NOSM University and the University of Toronto’s (U of T) Temerty Faculty of Medicine, the new U of T Obstetrics and Gynecology NOSM University Residency Stream will help meet the growing need for OB/GYN specialists across Northern Ontario. This program, based in Thunder Bay, will enable Obstetrics and Gynecology residency training to return to Northern Ontario through a combination of clinical rotations with U of T’s accredited OB/GYN subspecialty training and academics.

Meanwhile, NOSM University is launching enhanced skills medical residency programs in Addiction Medicine and Sport and Exercise Medicine. Resident doctors who have completed a two-year family medicine program can now apply to a third year of family medicine training in the Addiction Medicine or Sport and Exercise Medicine program. Available to resident doctors from across Canada, the programs will help improve equitable access to health care for Northerners.

“By adding these fields of study to our residency programs, we are providing more learning opportunities for new family physicians to expand their expertise,” says Dr. Rob Anderson, Associate Dean, Postgraduate Medical Education. “For Northern Ontarians, there are often barriers to accessing health care from specialists. Enabling family physicians to expand their scope of practice will benefit Northerners who are often required to travel to urban centres to gain access to Sport and Exercise Medicine or Addiction Medicine services.”

NOSM University currently enrolls 74 MD students and 60 first-year residents per year.

Innovating Curriculum

From MD specializations and pilots to medical physicists and rehabilitation professionals, NOSM University programs train practitioners committed to improving health outcomes in Northern Ontario.

Indigenous Peoples’ Health and Wellness Complementary Studies

The first of its kind in Canada, the Indigenous Peoples’ Health and Wellness Complementary Studies program is designed to address the health-care needs of Indigenous peoples using community-engaged Indigenous teachings to enhance students’ competency to provide safe, compassionate care. Part of an enhancement of the UME curriculum, eight first-year students have been admitted to the CS each fall. This is the second year of the Indigenous Peoples’ Health and Wellness Complementary Studies.

In addition to their UME program requirements, students participate in experiential and participatory learning activities in Northern, rural, and remote contexts. Curriculum includes foundational teachings in Indigenous Knowledge and healing, mentorship with Indigenous physicians and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, trauma-informed care, interprofessional collaboration for Indigenous health, and advocacy and leadership.

Knowledge keepers, faculty, and students are creating a community of people who are connected through their passion for Indigenous health and wellness. It is hoped that the ripple effects of this specialization will go beyond those who are directly involved in receiving this training and their future patients, by helping to improve systems where graduates become leaders and advocates.

Francophone Curricular Initiative

Launched in September 2022, the Voie vers la médecine en français (Francophone Curricular Initiative) integrates dedicated learning experiences throughout the MD program that will contribute to preserving and solidifying Francophone students’ cultural and linguistic identity, while they build their confidence in becoming competent Francophone physicians.

Students participating in the initiative will practise with patients and taking their histories French, learning medical terminology, and engaging in group learning sessions in French. Other experiences may include mentoring opportunities with practising Francophone physicians and priority access to clinical placements in Francophone settings.

The Voie vers la médecine en français also identifies Francophone faculty members who can provide guidance and ongoing mentorship to NOSM University medical students across the region. In parallel, both physician faculty and students can build a strong advocacy and leadership network in support of a sustainable approach to patient-centred and culturally safe care for all Francophones. The program targets the development of leadership skills needed to understand and influence health systems, and focuses on advocacy for Francophone patients and communities to identify unique challenges related to the delivery of French-language health services.

Rural Generalist Complementary Studies

Recently launched as an opportunity for students interested in rural generalism in the UME program, the Rural Generalist Complementary Studies provides enriched learning experiences for MD students who have a desire to become a rural generalist family physician. It forms the UME component of the Rural Generalist Pathway, which aims to align medical training with community needs and create a career for physicians that is appealing in the short- and long-term.

Through mentorship, targeted skills development, priority placements in rural communities, and opportunities to explore the complex and changing nature of and influences on rural practice, future physicians will learn and be prepared for what it takes to be a rural generalist family physician—physicians who provide comprehensive primary care as well as work in rural hospitals, ERs, and provide other enhanced services.

Students who take part in the Rural Generalist Complementary Studies will have an understanding of their role in communities and the ability to be agile and adapt to changing community needs.

A broad scope of practice, excellent clinical skills, the humility to work with and to understand community needs and to seek to collaborate are the keys to becoming a rural generalist. The program puts an emphasis on developing relationships and learning in community and clinical settings where graduates might someday choose to practise.

Rehabilitation professionals

When a patient is living with a chronic condition or has had an injury, rehabilitation professionals help return them to what is most important: participating in work, social, and recreational activities. Rehabilitation disciplines include audiologists (AUD), dietitians, kinesiologists, nurses, occupational therapists (OT), physiatrists, physiotherapists (PT), psychologists, social workers, and speech-language pathologists (SLP).

Through funding from the Ministry of Health, the Rehabilitation Sciences (RS) Program at NOSM University works to increase the number of RS professionals working in Northern Ontario. The program currently coordinates more than 150 clinical placements each year across the North for learners enrolled in OT, PT, SLP, and AUD programs at McMaster University, Queen’s University, the University of Toronto, Western University, and the University of Ottawa. Since the program was created, more than 700 learners have completed placements and more than 120 of these students are currently working in Northern Ontario.

Clinical placements are the biggest source of recruitment for new rehabilitation professionals in Northern Ontario. Despite efforts, recruiting rehabilitation professionals to the North continues to present a challenge. Collectively, there are currently more than 148 vacancies for RS professionals across Northern Ontario, as tracked by NOSM University’s Rehabilitation Sciences Program. To try and manage with the growing health human resource challenges and leverage the advantage of training local students, NOSM University has started initial discussions with the McMaster University School of Rehabilitation Science around the potential for satellite campuses of their OT and PT programs in Thunder Bay and Sudbury, and of their SLP program in Thunder Bay.

Medical Physics Residency Education Program

The Medical Physics Residency Education Program (MPREP) teaches the clinical application of medical physics with a focus on radiation oncology. Learners apply physics to the processes of radiation treatment, develop individualized patient radiation treatment plans, contribute to the computation of radiation doses, and verify the accuracy of radiation treatments. They also participate in quality assurance, radiation safety, equipment operation, and regulatory compliance.

A two-year joint program in partnership with Health Sciences North (HSN) and Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC), MPREP prepares learners for a career in clinic, industry, or academia. Learners complete their clinical rotations at HSN and TBRHSC but can also visit other cancer centres to learn about specialized techniques in radiotherapy.

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