Hopes for a medical school for Brandon were quashed last week with the release of a long-awaited study recommending undergraduate studies remain in Winnipeg with more medical residencies created in Brandon and other rural hospitals.
The Brandon Medical Education Study in 2011 began studying options for training more doctors for rural and northern practice.
The 246-page report concludes a separate medical school in the Wheat City isn’t needed because the small regional rural population doesn’t require the volume of new medical graduates such a school would produce.
It is recommending what it calls a modest increase in “homegrown supply” of doctors trained in Manitoba.
The provincial need is for no more than 30 more primary-care physicians per year, not 50 doctors, which is what is the minimum feasible class size for a free-standing school, the study said.
But a Brandon physician practising for more than 30 years in Westman and a vocal proponent for facilities that train doctors who want to practise in rural and northern areas said the proposal won’t address the problem.
“It will have little or no effect on the problem we have out here,” said Dr. Derry Decter. “It’s an illusion to think that this is going to solve anything.”
A half-dozen new residencies per year while continuing to focus undergraduate studies in Winnipeg will neither raise the numbers of doctors up to what’s needed, nor address why doctors don’t often opt to practise outside the city, said Decter.
“This is going to generate five or six doctors a year,” he said, adding that as many as 300 doctors are what’s needed to fill all the vacancies across the North and rural areas, particularly to fill ongoing gaps each time recruited foreign-trained doctors move on after just short periods of service.
More residencies won’t have the desired influence of getting doctors to practise outside Winnipeg either, Decter said. Studies show it’s where students do their undergraduate studies — or first years of their training — that is the strongest influence on where they end up practising.
“The first four years of school… that’s the major influence on where you go,” he said. “So if we continue to train them in Winnipeg we’re going to continue to have the same problem that we have now.”
The Brandon Medical Education Study (BMES) also concluded that lack of access to doctors in Manitoba is a problem felt across both urban and rural areas, but says needs can be met by redirecting current physician resources and what it terms “a modest increase in homegrown supply.”
Among its other recommendations, it calls for the eventual development of a satellite medical school in Brandon to work in partnership with the University of Manitoba’s faculty of medicine.
The province said it has accepted all 10 recommendations of the report. Health Minister Theresa Oswald said six new family medicine residencies in Brandon, Steinbach and Morden/Winkler had already been added.
Other recommendations include creating community campuses with clinical teaching units for third- and fourth-year medical students interested in rural practice and ongoing assessment of whether additional spaces for medical students are needed. If more are needed there is potential for the formation of a satellite medical campus in Brandon and possibly other rural communities in the future, the study said.
A working group with representatives from the faculty of medicine at the University of Manitoba and Brandon University will begin to implement recommendations from the study.
Deborah Poff, Brandon University president and chair of the steering committee that oversaw the study said in a news release the BMES recommendations “are a step toward training more doctors in Brandon and rural Manitoba.”