Two NOSM University Alumnae Bring Social Accountability
to the Forefront

Two NOSM University Alumnae Bring Social Accountability to the Forefront

In 2022, NOSM University welcomed two familiar faces into Francophone and First Nations portfolios. Dr. Jacinta Oyella was named Site Director of the Family Medicine Remote First Nations Residency Stream in May, and in June Dr. Mélanie Patrie became the Francophone Education Lead for residency programs.

Dr. Jacinta Oyella

Dr. Jacinta Oyella

An alumna of the Family Medicine Remote First Nation Stream that she now leads, Dr. Oyella practises as a Community Physician for Matawa Health Co-operative delivering comprehensive rural/remote First Nations primary health care. Dr. Oyella is a Clinical Lecturer and Preceptor at NOSM University and has acted as a competency coach for NOSM University residents. She completed medical school at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

The Remote First Nations Family Medicine Residency Stream reflects the university’s social accountability mandate by teaching residents skills in comprehensive rural and remote family practice at distributed learning sites, and in urban centres including Dryden Regional Health Centre, Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre, and Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. The stream came to be as a result of a 2017 Tripartite Partnership Agreement (supported by the Ministry of Health) between the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Eabametoong First Nation, and Matawa First Nations Management, with the goal of preparing future family physicians to practise in First Nation communities in Northern Ontario. Dr. Oyella feels passionate about this mission. Above all, she embraces the importance of relationship-building based on trust.

Dr. Mélanie Patrie

Dr. Mélanie Patrie

Dr. Patrie is a proud Francophone who completed her MD and residency at NOSM University. As a medical student, she was a member of the Francophone Reference Group as a student representative and is currently an Assistant Professor and physician facilitator for the French Language Clinical Skills sessions offered by Francophone Affairs Unit for MD students. She is a family physician with a busy clinical practice at the City of Lakes Family Health Team at the Chelmsford site. With a family practice that is mostly Francophone, she recognizes both the importance of offering French language medical services and the challenges that arise when this need is not met.

Dr. Patrie is motivated to work towards advancing the Francophone presence at NOSM University and within its residency programs.

Doing Good: NOSM University Students Immerse and Learn in Northern Ontario Communities

As a medical university founded with an explicit social accountability mandate, NOSM University challenges itself to make a difference and lead the transformation of health-care systems in Northern Ontario. Social accountability informs how students interact with communities across the wider pan-Northern campus. Students engage in advocacy efforts and community involvement that is grounded within communities under a true co-creation model. Through this, students are becoming leaders who can help to transform health-care systems and improve population health outcomes.

For Logan Brennan, fourth-year NOSM University medical student, social accountability meant contributing his skills and energy to community life beyond health care. During the summer of 2022, Brennan spent two weeks learning during a rural generalist elective in Marathon. Coincidentally, one of the high school volleyball coaches was hosting a volleyball camp in preparation for the coming season. Brennan—who has played at the varsity level and was a member of the Canadian national men’s volleyball team—offered to support the local team development in the evenings while he was on placement.

“Health care and education are the backbone of a community,” Brennan says. “Without stability, structure, and opportunity within these key pillars, it is difficult to foster and grow community. Marathon is blessed to have exceptional community members who have demonstrated and taught me what rural medicine and community are all about.”

For a group of fourth-year NOSM University students, the impetus for getting involved at a community level came from learning about the high rates of cannabis dependence in Northern Ontario. Northern Ontario has the highest rates of cannabis dependence in high school students across the province, according to The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, published by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in 2020.

The university students—now graduated from NOSM University–created a video to educate youth about cannabis. Targeted at youth aged 12-18, the video was created as a result of the university’s unique advocacy curriculum.

“We are hoping that our video answers questions that kids may have about cannabis, and facilitates open discussions,” says Dr. Kelsey Pitre. “Ultimately, if youth still opt to use cannabis, I hope this video will provide them with strategies to use it more safely.”

The group of students contacted public health units, regional harm reduction programs, and the Canadian Pediatrics Society in an effort to spread the word. The project was awarded the Pediatric Resident Advocacy Education Grant by Healthy Generations.

“Living and training in the North, you learn that meaningful change begins with intent and is driven by people who have a common goal,” says student Alannah MacLean. “We knew that reaching out to the greater Northern Ontario community would help get this video to youth who will benefit most from learning more about cannabis and harm reduction strategies.”

Dr. Pitre adds, “Our years at NOSM University have taught us to advocate for patients both at the bedside and beyond. We’ve learned to identify health disparities and find unique ways to try to address them in partnership with communities, and it has been an incredible learning experience.”

One annual NOSM University student project, a menstrual product drive, was born from a desire to combat health inequities by improving access to period products. In its second year in 2022, menstrual products were purchased for the fly-in community of Kingfisher Lake First Nation. The drive was led by Ashley Perreault and Lucie Ménard, medical students at NOSM University who serve in the elected position of Local Officers of Reproductive Health.

Currently, costs of menstrual products in this community are triple the cost of products purchased in urban centres or online.

“NOSM University has an important relationship with Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario, who provide students with invaluable learning opportunities throughout their time in medical school,” Perreault says. “As students who are dedicated to addressing the priority health concerns of the people and communities of Northern Ontario, we were focused on relieving the financial burden on those who menstruate.”

Currently, fundraising is underway for the 2023 menstrual period drive, which will benefit 120 people who menstruate in the fly-in community of Muskrat Dam First Nation. The project is being led by students Rebecca Bourdon and Brooklyn Ranta.

Dr. Sarah Newbery, Associate Dean of Physician Workforce Strategy at NOSM University, has been impressed over many years with the ways that medical students contribute to community life. “As medical students learn in communities, there are opportunities to which we, as community preceptors, can invite their participation—whether in sport, music, or local events,” she says. “The sharing of skills, and gifts of time and energy impact people and communities in such positive ways.”

NOSM University Recognized for Commitment to Northern Ontario’s Francophone Community

NOSM University was a 2022 recipient of the Réseau du mieux-être francophone du Nord de l’Ontario Award of Recognition honouring community partners for their contributions and efforts to improve access to, and equity of, French-language services.

“This is an honour for which we are very grateful, and it’s one that tells me that NOSM University is on the right track,” says Dr. Sarita Verma, President, Vice-Chancellor, Dean, and CEO of NOSM University. “NOSM University has prioritized social accountability and health justice in everything we do. Simply, this means that the university must be thoughtful and responsive to communities and their health needs— particularly for the roughly 130,000 Francophones and French-speaking people in Northern Ontario.”

The university continues to expand its efforts to support Francophone medical students who will practise in French, as well as support Francophile and Anglophone medical students in recognising and providing linguistically and culturally sensitive care.

On behalf of the university, Dr. Verma thanked many Francophone contributors, supporters, communities, and partners. “To meet the needs of the Francophone community, we rely on solid partnerships with organizations like the Réseau du mieux-être francophone du Nord de l’Ontario. Merci, thank you for this recognition.”

Social Accountability Mandate Drives Work on Planetary Health

NOSM University understands that planetary health is human health, and that environmental justice and health equity are the ultimate goals. With this in mind, the Action Committee on Climate Change (ACCC) was established to provide advice to the President and Board of Governors about climate change and its impact on health in Northern Ontario. Chaired by Dr. Elaine Blacklock, the ACCC works with the Executive Group and the Board, in collaboration with other portfolios within the university, to identify, evaluate, and recommend opportunities and implementation strategies (where feasible), regarding the development of a comprehensive response to climate change.

To date, these activities have occurred:

Our Strategic Plan  identifies the commitment by NOSM University to “become a leader in internal practices that address climate change and environmental health” (Strategic Enabler 3, Investing in our Infrastructure);

We declared 2021 to be our “Year of Climate Change and Social Justice.” In that year we also signed the  Okanagan Charter, and we invested in research projects hosted by the Centre of Social Accountability that responded to climate change, social determinants of health, and building community and youth resilience;

Major work on curricular renewal in both the MD program and in postgraduate programs is underway;

We celebrated Earth Day on April 21, 2023. This event was also the focus of the President’s Lecture Series in 2022 and featured an amazing panel devoted to the topic.

NOSM University signed the AFMC Academic Health Institutions’ Declaration on Planetary health.

This year, we have established NOSM University’s pledge for sustainable travel and have joined the Global Consortium on Climate Change and Health Education. The Joint and Stipendiary Faculty Promotions Committee is suggesting mitigating climate change by allowing hybrid and virtual presentations to be counted towards promotions. In June 2023, NOSM University will be hosting the Summer Institute on Sustainable Health Systems with the CASCADES.

The ACCC’s vision is that NOSM University graduates are fully prepared to care for patients, to teach, to advocate for a sustainable low-carbon university and health-care systems, and to help create and lead the social mandate that will drive the enormous changes we urgently need here in Canada and globally.

Partnership and Advocacy are Impetus for New Global Health Initiative

Global health, an emerging initiative at NOSM University, aims to link expertise with inequities in Northern Ontario to similar global contexts across health professional education and research.

Dr. Tara Baron, Program Director of Pediatrics, and Dr. Emily Groot, Program Director of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, had the opportunity to travel with two PGME learners to the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Butaro, Rwanda, from September to October 2022. Drs. Baron and Groot call the experience “invaluable.”

Dr. Baron and a pediatric resident spent two weeks working with medical learners in Rwanda during their pediatric clinical rotation. “We were able to focus on teaching an approach to investigating and managing patients on the pediatric ward while working alongside local physicians. This allowed visiting faculty and residents to reciprocally learn about the Rwandan context while providing teaching support to the local faculty,” said Dr. Baron. “The UGHE students were a bright and engaged group who were keen to take advantage of all learning opportunities. They were truly a pleasure to work with! We all learned together as we encountered children with challenging medical issues.”

“The NOSM University social accountability mandate is similar to UGHE,”she continued, “and it was interesting to teach in an environment with similar values that also train physicians who will serve more rural and remote areas. The social accountability mandate is a very important part of NOSM University’s pediatric program and this experience really broadened our social pediatric curriculum.”

The trip resulted from an emerging part of NOSM University’s global health efforts—establishing partnerships with institutions around the world. Partnerships have the potential to open up opportunities for learners and faculty from both institutions, to grow research opportunities and collaborations, and to share local Northern Ontario expertise with others who live and work in contextually similar environments.

Currently, NOSM University is developing a framework for establishing new partnerships, and a few partnerships are already established, including UGHE, as well as the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York University, The Network: Towards Unity for Health, and The Training for Health Equity Network. NOSM University also supports learners and researchers who wish to pursue opportunities in global health by offering support with pre-departure training and through a comprehensive international elective approval process.

NOSM University’s global health activities aim to link, in an equitable and reciprocal way, expertise with inequities in Northern Ontario to other similar global contexts across health professional education and research. Dr. Groot found these links to be critical. “A global pandemic is a reminder that public health and preventive medicine specialists need to understand and address the social and structural determinants of health around the world, and we’re thankful to UGHE for providing us an opportunity to teach in and learn about the Rwandan context,” she says.

“We look forward to continuing to work together in solidarity and reciprocity, and look not just to learn from urban academic centers, but to learn from other rural parts of the world.”

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