Now that UNBC has signed an agreement to train doctors in the north, doctors and health care professionals and education leaders are turning to government for the money to make it happen.
“It’s imperative in our view that we move ahead on this very very quickly,” says UNBC president Dr. Charles Jago. “… We don’t want to wait. The health care situation in the north won’t tolerate delays and we’re asking government to make a decision to allow us to move ahead with this as quickly as possible.”
Although UNBC took its first steps toward “growing its own” medical professionals last week with a conceptual agreement to establish a Northern Medical Program, it still needs at least $600,000 in curriculum dollars to make the program happen.
Dr. Jago signed a memorandum of agreement with UBC vice-president academic Barry McBride Thursday before announcing the program to delegates at the National Health Summit.
Children and Families Minister Ed John stood in for Health Minister Corky Evans and announced $57,700 in start up money to kick the program off. UNBC would also need a “modest capital expansion” and prepare to go ahead with establishing a medical undergraduate program, a bachelor of health sciences, to facilitate students interested in other health care needs. No commitment has been made, as yet, for the additional money.
The program adds much needed seats to the number of doctors trained in the province, which now only provides about 25 per cent of B.C.’s annual physician replacement needs. It should boost the number of medical seats in the province from 128 to 200 seats by 2006. Those seats would be accompanied by matching residency or specialist training seats.
The joint program will see the addition of 15 to 20 medical students attend a medical program at UNBC as early as 2004.
But even if the first doctors could potentially enter the program in 2004, graduate in 2008 and graduate from their two-year residency program by 2010.
Those logistics took education professionals away from the original concept of establishing a separate medical program at UNBC dubbed the Northern Centre of Excellence for rural and remote health care.
The new program is designed specifically to keep doctors in the north and is considered to be a faster, cheaper way to initiate a medical training centre here.
After studying rural medical programs from Australia to Scandinavia, New Brunswick and beyond, Dr. Jago and a task force of five local members of the medical community decided to work with UBC to create the program.
At its peak, up to 80 medical students will be enrolled in the new medical program, either while taking the first two years of schooling here or at UBC’s Vancouver campus, where they will take their final two years of school.
They may then return to Prince George to enroll in an expanded residency program, that would include additional family practice, general surgery and internal medicine residency seats. There’s no obligation to make students stay here, says Mr. Jago, but the evidence is that many students who train in the north do stay here.
Organizers have not yet established details such as admission requirements although there will be an effort to include as many as
B. C. students as possible.
The program still needs approval and funding from the provincial government.