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Northern doctors face unique challenges, OMA chair finds out from local physicians

Dr. Nadia Alam, Ontario Medical Association President, met with local doctors Valerie Short, Jean Vaillancourt, Guy Labelle, Stephen Cooper and Vincenzo Susini to hear about the challenges of practicing medicine in Northern Ontario.

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by Isabel Mosseler
Tribune

Practicing medicine in West Nipissing is no easy task for the too-few doctors trying to fill in gaps caused by the shortage of medical professionals affecting all of Northern Ontario. That’s what Dr. Nadia Alam, President of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), found out when she met with local doctors on September 19th.

After lunching and chatting with five local physicians, her major finding was that they want more doctors on their team, and more infrastructure and support staff in general. She says it’s a common theme throughout northern Ontario. “I’m the spokesperson for all physicians in Ontario. Every year we hold a president’s tour, we go from district to district… I expanded the tour to include a northern Ontario component… Northern Ontario takes up 2/3 of Ontario, a vast geography of small towns and cities, and healthcare is a huge issue here, and the physicians providing healthcare face concerns,” she acknowledges.

Dr. Alam, a practicing physician in Georgetown, Ontario, is not unfamiliar with the north. She was a locum for the hospital in Moosonee / Moose Factory earlier in her career. What she wanted to know from local physicians is what it’s like to practice in this area, what are the success stories, and what are the particular challenges. She says the doctors’ individual responses are confidential, but some major themes stood out.

“The biggest issue they are facing, similar to other communities in northern Ontario, is the doctor shortage. There aren’t enough family doctors, or physicians in the emergency department, or specialist back-up. Sturgeon Falls is kind of lucky because they are close enough to North Bay and can ask for help there. The big thing; they still need the emergency department, the family medicine clinics, as well as the in-patient wards to function. … There are locum programs through Health Force Ontario …but also some challenges with that.”

So what can Dr. Alam do to assist? “My job is to advocate to improve that, so it’s easier to get those temporary physicians [locums] to come fill the needs. In the bigger picture, I’ll be working to advocate for recruitment and retention in the community for a more permanent solution.”

She adds that having the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSoM) has been helpful, as doctors from the north, trained in the north, tend to stay in the north.



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