This Dean's Blog originally appeared as an op-ed on DurhamRegion.com
By Jane Philpott and Cynthia Davis
Is there a doctor in the house? For many Ontarians, the answers are bleak. No. Not enough. Not in their communities. Not for their families. Not taking on new patients.
It is estimated that 2.2 million Ontario adults neither have a family doctor nor a primary care nurse practitioner, according to a national survey from OurCare. Another nearly two million have a family doctor that’s over the age of 65. Meanwhile, an Ontario Medical Association survey released this spring found that 40 per cent of physicians are considering retiring in the next five years.
This deepening crisis calls for bold thinking, collaboration, and new solutions. When Ontario’s government committed to expanding medical school seats, Queen's University and Lakeridge Health decided it was time for something different. To that end, we are launching a groundbreaking new medical education program this fall to address the shortage of family doctors.
The Queen’s-Lakeridge Health MD Family Medicine Program is designed to train and graduate practice-ready, community-focused physicians able to work as part of interdisciplinary teams. It’s built for students who already know they want to become family physicians with a curriculum that is focused on the comprehensive skills and knowledge these doctors need.
Twenty students will enter the inaugural class in September based at the Queen’s satellite campus at Lakeridge Health’s Oshawa Hospital. While focused on communities in Durham Region and southeastern Ontario, we are striving for something greater: to offer a model for other institutions in Ontario and around the country.
From the start and throughout the program, students will engage in workplace experiences at family medicine practices in urban centres and small communities across the region. They will get to know patients and their families, and the places they call home. They will work alongside a wide range of community-based health professionals. Learn from them. Be inspired by them.
This program is the first of its kind in Canada.
We offer a direct pathway into family medicine. Our students will build their professional identity and skillsets around this specialty. Our program is built to meet the needs of future family physicians and ease our students’ transition to a residency in family medicine.
Family doctors play a crucial role in our communities. They know us personally. They support us at our most vulnerable moments and through all stages of life. They help keep our children safe and watch them grow up. They nurture and guide us in our health journeys. The student experience in our program will demonstrate this one-of-a-kind, special bond. It will emphasize the longer-term patient and community relationships that are central to family medicine.
Ultimately, we want to graduate more family physicians for Ontario. We want to pioneer an innovative approach to education that supports local communities and healthier populations. We want to inspire our own students. And we want to inspire others to join in this journey.
If home is where the heart is, there is no question that family doctors, along with their primary care teams, are the beating hearts of our communities. We want to provide customized training and experience to prepare new doctors for where they’re needed most: on the front lines of our communities—making a difference in the lives of our families, friends, and neighbours.
Is there a doctor in the house? More communities in southeastern Ontario will be able to answer “yes” to that question in a few years' time. For now, we look forward to welcoming our new students and shaping the family physicians of tomorrow.
Jane Philpott is the Dean of Queen’s Health Sciences. Cynthia Davis is the President and CEO of Lakeridge Health.