The dream of doctors educated and trained in the north that grew out of the June, 2000 citizens rally at the Multiplex will become a reality.
The provincial government approved $12.5 million for the construction of the Northern Medical Program’s state-of-the-art, 42,000 square foot medical facility at the University of Northern B.C. campus at an open cabinet meeting Friday in Victoria. The building is expected to be completed and the first 24 students are slated to begin their studies in the undergraduate program as early as the fall of 2004 graduating in the spring of 2008.
“The fact that we’re going to be training physicians in the north, for the north is just a huge issue, it is the light on the horizon, it has excited people and it allows us to believe we can further build our communities and further build our economy,” says UNBC president Doctor Charles Jago. “It was only 21 months ago the rally took place and the idea was born. To have come this far in less than two years is nothing short of amazing.”
The Northern Medical Program was first unveiled at the January, 2001 Northern Medical Summit in Prince George. Final approval was given to the curriculum by the university senate in November of last year. Dr. Jago says requests have already been sent out for architectural proposals for the new building and they hope to break ground in late August or early September of this year.
The program will employ 24 faculty at UNBC as well as numerous technical and support staff.
“This is great news, not just for the province but for the north in particular,” says advanced education minister and Prince George-Mt. Robson MLA Shirley Bond, adding that the NMP would address not only the province-wide doctor shortage, but recruitment and retention problems in northern rural communities. “We have a strong belief that if you train people where they live they are much more likely to stay and work there.”
The government committed to $5 million for planning and implementation costs next year and Bond says $24 million has been included in her ministry’s budget over the next three years for the program’s operating budget.
Tuition fees for the northern medical program will be the same as those for UBC’s medical school. UBC recently announced those would be increased 75 per cent to $6,500 per year in September and it’s predicted they could rise as high as $14,000 within three years.
The northern medical school, as well as the Island Medical Program at the University of Victoria, which also received funding last week, is being conducted in conjunction with the University of British Columbia. Students will take their first semester of studies at UBC, then spend the remainder of the four years at UNBC.
It’s hoped that the two new medical programs along with additional seats at UBC planned for 2005 will almost double the 128 doctors currently graduating annually from UBC’s medical program, and hopefully increase the approximately 70 grads that actually stay in B.C. By comparison 300 doctors leave or retire annually in the province.
The total budget for the expanded medical seats is $134 million, with $110 million going towards a new life sciences centre at UBC.
Students completing the four-year undergrad program will have a UBC medical degree and can then choose either a two or three-year residency as family practitioners or specialize and attend a major Canadian medical school. Students could spend anywhere from two to 10 years more in school after graduating the NMP, depending on the field they chose.