Canadian school tackles shortage of rural doctors

February 14, 2003

A medical school in Canada's frozen north is consulting local aboriginal populations and educators from as far away as the Australian outback as it carves out a unique curriculum.

The Northern Ontario Medical School (Noms), which plans to open in September 2004, is developing a curriculum that will train young doctors and answer the needs of the many small communities scattered over a region the size of France and Germany combined.

One of the most pressing needs in the territory is for family doctors.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Health, 33 Northern Ontario communities are deemed underserved. The region also needs 95 additional physicians.

Noms, the first new Canadian medical school in 30 years, hopes to address these shortfalls and plans to take 56 students in its first year. It will involve a partnership between the universities of Laurentian, in Sudbury, and Lakehead, in Thunder Bay, to establish multiple teaching and research sites across large and small communities in northern Ontario.

"It will offer community-based medical education in a range of clinical settings," said dean Roger Strasser. He planned to improve retention and recruitment by getting undergraduate medical students out to communities in their first year. "It will end up bringing to students a positive clinical and educational experience in a rural setting," he said.

Dr Strasser said tuition would draw on the popular Canadian model of problem-based learning pioneered by McMaster University but also lean towards Harvard Business School's case-based approach.

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