Towards health equity and beyond.
This year marks 780 MDs who have graduated from NOSM—55 self-identify as Indigenous and 165 self-identify as Francophone. In addition, 692 residents have completed NOSM programs. More than half of these health-care professionals have stayed in Northern Ontario, with the majority establishing their practice in Sudbury and Thunder Bay. Another notable milestone this year is our new class of NOSM MD students—marking the largest intake of Indigenous medical students in Canada at 17 percent.
Among allied health professionals, NOSM supports several programs, including physician assistants through a partnership with the University of Toronto and The Michener Institute of Education at UHN, medical physicists, clinician researchers, scientists and other health professionals. The School celebrated 148 Registered Dietitians completing training in 2021, with 78 now practising in Northern Ontario. These are milestones worth celebrating.
Northern Ontario continues to experience a critical shortage of doctors. Although it’s a shortage being experienced across Canada, in Northern Ontario the stakes are higher. Nearly 50 percent of physicians are planning to retire in the next five years. Retirements are coming at a time when the shortage is already critical. In many communities, the entire system is held together by a few physicians who are stretched very thin. In communities where there are no permanent physicians, there is a dependence on the continuous cycle of temporary locum doctors who come and go.
Factor in the added challenge of delivering care during a pandemic, across a vast geography in remote and rural communities—each with their own unique issues, experiencing worsening overall health, chronic disease and more complex health issues than the rest of Ontario—and the stakes rise again. In the North, the increasing rate of burnout among health-care providers is a real ‘kryptonite’ that threatens these vital teachers, our frontline COVID-19 heroes. Prioritizing health and wellbeing is a leading priority for NOSM. This is a critical time for change in health care, one that NOSM is proud to collaborate, facilitate, and lead. As such, we became an official signatory of the Okanagan Charter this year and NOSM’s Board of Directors endorsed a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion by approving guiding principles.
To counter our regions ongoing challenges, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) recently launched Prescription for Ontario: Doctors’ 5-Point Plan for Better Health Care including unprecedented, Northern-specific, health-care recommendations. The launch of this plan, which highlights physician shortages, long wait times, the serious backlog of services, inadequate mental health and addiction programs, and insufficient home and community care, marked a milestone in health advocacy for Northern Ontario.
Nowhere are the issues more critical. Equitable access to health care in Northern Ontario is a unique challenge, requiring unique solutions.
The journey to becoming the first stand-alone medical university is uncharted territory yet provides the opportunity to turn our struggles into triumph and accelerate our mission towards health equity and beyond.