We are pleased to welcome Dr. Geoffrey Payne, Regional Associate Dean, Northern BC, as a guest contributor to the blog. Dr. Payne provides insight on how the Northern Medical Program and its partners are working to improve access to care in rural communities.
We share the concerns of the community of Fort St. James over physician shortages, and recognize the challenges faced by Dr. Paul Stent as one of the community’s only care providers. Sadly, many communities in the north, like other underserved areas of the province, are under similar strain.
The UBC Northern Medical Program opened its doors at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George in 2004 with the goal of educating physicians in the north, where young doctors-in-training can understand the unique challenges – and rewards – of working in rural medicine and become part of the community they may one day serve. We are proud to say that this May, the NMP will graduate its 5th class, with more than 130 MD’s having received their training in northern communities, and more than half of our graduates are choosing to pursue careers as family physicians.
These graduates must complete residency training – typically spanning two to seven years – before they are eligible to be licensed to practice (editor’s note: see the Physician Training Timeline graphic) . We have already seen NMP grads from 2008 through 2010 complete Family Practice training and return to northern communities. Currently, thirteen NMP graduates are practicing family medicine in rural and northern areas.
Furthermore, our northern family practice residency programs in Prince George, Terrace and Fort St. John demonstrate high-quality training, and offer MDs the opportunity to complete postgraduate training in these unique communities.
Return of Service contracts have not always produced long-term results for recruiting and retaining doctors in rural communities across Canada and elsewhere in the world. We are convinced that distributed medical training – where physicians live, learn and establish strong roots in these communities – presents one of the most promising prospects of meaningful and long-term engagement and service of medical professionals in underserved areas. This, along with ongoing collaborative efforts with Northern Health, the Northern Medical Program and local physicians on projects to improve recruitment, retention and mentorship for new physicians, will contribute to a sustainable system and high quality care these communities deserve.
Dr. Geoffrey Payne
(For more info, see this story on NMP grads in the Prince George Citizen, and a UNBC profile of several grads working in rural communities.)
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