Keeping doctors in communities: A success story in BC’s north

Kristen Friesen

[Excerpts] Train your doctors locally, give them lots of community support, and more often than not, they’ll stay – that seems to be a successful formula for attracting and keeping physicians in rural areas, according to the head of a program doing just that in Northern BC.

Back in 2000, thousands of residents rallied in Prince George over their concern with health services in the area. Out of that, the Northern Medical Program was born. It’s a partnership between the University of British Columbia, the University of Northern British Columbia, and the Northern Health Authority. A couple years later, communities around northern BC joined forces with UNBC to establish the Northern Medical Programs Trust (NMPT), which today, is a $9.5 million endowment fund. It was established with donations from individuals, corporations, municipalities and service organizations. About two dozen municipalities and regional districts have joined the NMPT and made financial commitments to support the education and retention of health professionals in northern and rural communities. 

“You hear physicians say that they wouldn’t be working here had they not had the experiencing of working in this kind of rural area,” says Dr. Paul Winwood, the regional associate dean for the University of British Columbia’s Northern Medical Program

The Northern Medical Program – just like the Southern Medical Program that provides clinical training at several locations, from Kelowna to Vernon, Kamloops, Penticton and in Cranbrook, is among the first of its kind in North America. A total of 32 students are accepted into both the NMP and the SMP every year. The programs are focused on training physicians from and for underserved and rural communities.

“The aim is to increase the healthcare profession in BC and support their education in BC, and what we’ve seen, is that our grads are coming back in numbers that are rewarding,” said Winwood of the northern program.

Studies suggest doctors who train in these types of communities are more likely to return to practice there, once their education is complete, said Dr. Allan Jones, regional associate dean for the Interior region.

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