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Vol 40  No 1
August 9, 2007


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The Faculty of Medicine

An invaluable asset in more ways than one
by Dr. James Rourke

Forty years ago Memorial University, in an act of courage and faith, appointed Dr. Ian Rusted as dean of medicine. This was the culmination of several years of discussion and reports with the province and outside consultants on the feasibility of establishing a medical school. It marked the defining step in establishing what was to become the Faculty of Medicine with the promise of a Health Sciences Centre that would deliver top-quality tertiary health services for the entire province.

In 1965, around the time these discussions were taking place, there were only 330 doctors in the province. Today there are 822 fully licensed doctors in Newfoundland and Labrador – 237 family doctors are graduates of Memorial’s medical school and another 208 specialists are MUN medical graduates. Overall doctors trained at Memorial make up more than half of all doctors in the province, with about one-fifth of those working in the province’s rural areas.

For physicians with specialist training, the importance of an academic appointment is a critical aspect in recruitment and retention. The opportunities for teaching, research and the accompanying academic freedom are all important factors in attracting the highly-trained specialists who offer so much to the health care needs and medical education in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have been enormously successfully in encouraging our own medical graduates to pursue specialty training and recruiting them back to Memorial.

Our Faculty of Medicine has three major functions. In addition to education and research, our faculty, resident and students, in their clinical roles with our health care partners, are involved in the provision of health care. We manage our resources and co-operate with health care policymakers. For example, our Division of Community Health and Humanities makes its expertise available to government and public groups for research in areas such as autism, primary health care needs, public health capacity and eating disorders.

The Faculty of Medicine’s research enterprise has grown steadily and in 2006-07 accounted for more than $13 million dollars, representing almost 15 per cent of research funding awarded to the university. Much of our research responds directly to health concerns in Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly our world-leading genetics research which encompasses the full spectrum from molecular to clinical to ethics to applied health systems research. For example, major projects in hereditary colon cancer and juvenile diabetes are making progress in identifying who is at risk for these diseases.

From the beginning, research that focused on the needs of rural areas was a top priority of the Faculty of Medicine and the prime example of that is the extraordinary accomplishment of Dr. Max House in distance education technology and establishing the Telemedicine Centre.

We are intensely aware of the need to train doctors who will go into rural practice, and are addressing this in a number of ways. Our research shows that medical graduates who have a rural background, are originally from the province, or do some or all of their postgraduate training at Memorial are more likely to work in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2004, 55 per cent of MUN graduates with a rural background who did some or all of their residency training at Memorial were working in the province in 2004.

Right now, over 40 per cent of medical students at MUN come from rural areas, compared to a Canadian average of 11 per cent. Our long-standing summer MedQuest program offers rural high school students as opportunity to explore careers in the health sciences, and many have gone on to pursue careers in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and other allied health professions.

In their undergraduate training, our students are given maximum exposure to rural practice through rotations in communities throughout the province. In Happy Valley/Goose Bay we have a long-standing successful Northern Family Medicine Training Program which offers family medicine residents the opportunity to do nine or more months of their 24 month training in Labrador.

For physicians who choose rural practice, a key concern is continuing medical education. To address this, the Faculty of Medicine’s Professional Development and Conferencing Services has become the Canadian leader in delivering accredited continuing medical education programs that play a major role in meeting the professional development needs of health care professionals throughout this province and across Canada. These programs are offered through a variety of formats, including teleconferencing, video-conferencing, online and onsite.

The trademark of Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine is “Building a Healthy Tomorrow.” Our 2007 Strategic Vision is that we be known around the world for our methods and our outcomes of our leading high quality medical education programs, educating excellent physicians with knowledge, skills and attitudes to work in communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and also who can be world leaders and enhance medical care and research wherever they work.

Building on the vision of the late Dr. Ian Rusted, Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine has expanded and become integral to the provision of health care in the province. As the current dean of medicine, I see opportunities for growth – both in education and research. Increasing the class size for undergraduate medical education and residency training programs will enable us to educate more medical students from our province, in our province, to become doctors for our province. We are also building a strong business case to expand our research enterprise to do more research that will have a direct impact on the health of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and will have national and international significance. This growth will require a new building for expanded faculty and up-to-date facilities. By building on our existing strengths we will continue to be a “value added” part of the university and the provincial health care system.

Dr. James Rourke is the dean of the Faculty of Medicine.

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