Aresolution calling on the provincial government to establish a rural medical school at Brandon University to churn out doctors prepared to work in rural areas got the nod from Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) delegates last week.
Sponsored by the R. M. s of Pipestone, Roblin and Shoal Lake, the resolution was aimed at finding a solution to the chronic shortage of physicians and emergency services in rural Manitoba.
Ross Tycoles, reeve of the R. M. of Pipestone, noted that the shortage of doctors had caused numerous emergency room closures and rerouting of services around the province in recent years with no prospects for improvement despite the launch of numerous initiatives aimed at solving the problem.
“Manitoba is the largest importer of doctors from developing nations and the Middle East. Almost all of the doctors entering practice in rural Manitoba are international graduates,” he said. He added that having a medical school based at BU with its own selection process could alleviate the shortage by educating students closer to home and allowing them to maintain ties with their communities.
The reluctance by new doctors to work outside the Perimeter can be explained by research that shows the majority of medical school candidates in the system today come from a handful of select urban private schools.
“Rural students are five times more likely to practise in rural Manitoba,” he said.
Sandy Sanderson, reeve of Glenwood, said that his council believes the proposal is one of the best ideas put forward in recent times for solving the doctor shortage and retention.
The backing of Brandon University president Debra Poff, who gave a presentation on the possibility of setting up an undergraduate medical program at the university earlier in the week, is grounds for optimism that such an ambitious project might actually come to fruition, he added.
“Sometimes in life for things to be successful, the stars need to be in alignment along with the planets,” he said.
“We believe that there is a great potential for this to benefit the rural communities of Manitoba.”
Brandon city councillor, Errol Black, speaking neither for or against the resolution, sounded a sober note.
Before people get too excited, he said, conducting a feasibility study would be a good first step.
“There’s really very little hard information available to support the arguments made by the proponents,” he said. “Perhaps we should do a study, and perhaps the AMM members who feel so passionately about it should contribute to the funding of such a study.”
He cited statistics that showed participation of rural students in the province’s medical program has increased from 11 to 49 since 1999 as the number of medical school spaces increased from 70 to 110 over the same period.
“Rural students comprised 23 per cent of total enrolment on average, even though they represented only seven per cent of the total admissions pool,” he said.
Rick Plaisier of the R. M. of Sifton noted that before rural communities started applying pressure on levels of government for more doctors, rural students weren’t as numerous in the province’s medical school.
“Now, all of a sudden the College of Physicians is allowing some rural kids into the program,” he said. “I wonder why? I think they are starting to hear rumbles. I think it’s about darn time that we start getting rural doctors in rural Manitoba.” [email protected]