Northern Medical Program celebrates 10 years of MD education

Dave Snadden speaks at the Northern Medical Program's 10th anniversary celebration.

Dave Snadden speaks at the Northern Medical Program’s 10th anniversary celebration.

The Northern Medical Program (NMP) is celebrating a decade of medical education in the North this month.

The program welcomed its first class of students to the University of Northern British Columbia’s Prince George campus in January 2005. The distributed medical program, part of the UBC Faculty of Medicine, was one of the first of its kind in the world

The milestone was marked by an event held Jan. 16 at UNBC that included speeches by several of the individuals who conceived, organized, supported or participated in the NMP’s creation.

“Marking the first 10 years of studies in the North is a historic occasion for the region,” said Paul Winwood, the Regional Associate Dean, Northern BC, as well as Vice Provost Medicine, UNBC. “Our goal of educating future physicians in the North, once considered an impractical dream, is now a fully-formed reality – one that is helping alleviate the chronic shortage of physicians throughout northern B.C.”

Students in the Northern Medical Program spend their first semester at UBC in Vancouver from August to December, then move to the North where they complete the rest of their four-year program.  In addition to relying local medical faculty who teach, the NMP uses teleconferencing to broadcast and receive lectures from medical professionals throughout BC. UBC was one of the first medical schools to deliver almost the entire four-year medical curriculum through distributed campuses; since then, several other Canadian medical schools have followed that approach.

Since its launch, the Northern Medical Program has expanded its annual intake from 24 to 32, and has graduated seven classes since 2008. After leaving the NMP, graduates move into two to seven years of medical residency and fellowship training, depending on specialty. About 30 per cent of NMP graduates who have settled into permanent practice are currently working in the North, while more than two-thirds in permanent practice are in rural, remote and northern communities.

This past fall, Alym Abdulla, Class of 2009, became the first NMP graduate to return to the North as a specialist. Dr. Abdulla, an urologist, completed his residency at Ontario’s McMaster University last spring and then set up practice in Prince George in October.

Speakers at the anniversary event included Dr. Winwood; David Snadden, Executive Associate Dean, Education, UBC; UNBC president Daniel Weeks; Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond; Northern Health board chair and former UNBC President Charles Jago; and NMP Class of 2008 graduate Heather Smith. Students in the Northern Medical Program also attended, including the newest crop of first-year students, who arrived on campus the week before.

“Training doctors is a long process; a large number of our graduates are still in residency or other postgraduate training,” Dr. Winwood said. “This is only the beginning. We are looking forward to our next decade and beyond.”

For more information about distributed medical education in British Columbia, including the Northern Medical Program, please visit www.bcmd10.med.ubc.ca