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REF NO.: 11

SUBJECT: Rural medicine collaboration in Canada’s North supports remote communities

DATE: Sept. 25

Practising medicine in rural and remote areas has many challenges and rewards. Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine continues to show expertise in rural medicine training with programs like the Nunavut Family Physician Residents Project (NunaFam), which is based out of Iqaluit and is in collaboration with the Government of Nunavut.

In 2011 the Government of Canada awarded $9.4 million for two initiatives involving Memorial University’s family medicine residency program, one for Newfoundland and Labrador and one for Nunavut. Under the Project for Enhanced Rural & Remote Training (PERRT), $4.5 million was awarded to establish NLFam, a pilot project to support enhancements to two existing family medicine training sites in Burin and Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L. Memorial is working in collaboration with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador towards the goal of increasing the number of family physicians practising in rural communities.

Also through PERRT, the NunaFam program was created with $4.9 million from the federal government in response to ongoing challenges to recruit and retain family physicians. The program’s aim is to establish improved access to permanent primary care for the people of Nunavut, thus improving health-care outcomes for the population particularly the 80 per cent who are Inuit. Memorial University is the educational partner helping to work towards a model of sustainable medical practice, as opposed to the intense, episodic care through locum physicians who practise in a region for a period that may range from a few weeks to a few months.

Iqaluit is a familiar place for Dr. James Rourke, dean, Faculty of Medicine, who spent close to a month there more than 35 years ago.

“In 1978 I was a locum physician in Iqaluit, which was known as Frobisher Bay at the time,” he said. “The needs of communities in Canada’s most northern and remote areas are very unique and the experience I gained as a physician was invaluable. In those communities, there’s an opportunity for physicians to expand their skills while also providing long-term essential services to patients.”

Funding for the NunaFam project has provided family medicine residents with a structured and longer-term educational rotation in Nunavut. The extended stay allows for more exposure to the community and its people. It also encourages residents to stay and work in Nunavut after the completion of their medical training.

To date, the NunaFam initiative has seen 11 first-year residents and 12 second-year residents train in Nunavut. The program for 2015-16 has expanded; for the current academic year, four second-year residents will train in the territory for an extended six-month period and will be based in Iqaluit but travel to remote, outlying communities for clinic experiences.

This successful collaboration has already produced results and has positively impacted a number of long-term family physicians practising in Nunavut. Two Memorial graduates have signed contracts to practise there long term. One physician has signed a one-year contract and is working in the territory as of this month; a second physician has signed a three-year contract and will begin work in January 2016. A third physician has been returning for locums and is considering signing on to practise upon completion of the emergency medicine program. The emergency medicine program is a valuable addition to the skills required for medical practice in the remote communities of Nunavut.

The NunaFam project has established Nunavut as a family practice training centre and is based at Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, which currently serves as the main referral centre for the Qikiqtalluq Region of Nunavut. The establishment of this training centre provides a link to Memorial University and additional educational and academic networking, creating a more supportive working environment.

With the recent approval of additional funding by the Government of Nunavut, the program will continue past the original end date of June 2016. This will ensure that the educational collaboration between Memorial University, the Faculty of Medicine and Nunavut will continue to grow and expand.

Memorial University and the NunaFam project were exhibitors along with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador at the Nunavut Trade Show and presented on the program’s successes at a session on Sept. 24.

A memorandum of understanding was signed on July 16 by Paul Davis, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Peter Taptuna, premier of Nunavut. The goal of the MOU is to facilitate and strengthen collaboration between both jurisdictions and to promote responsible economic development and enable stakeholders to mutually benefit from opportunities emerging in the Arctic. The MOU will provide further prospects for Newfoundland and Labrador businesses and institutions to establish partnerships and joint ventures with their counterparts in Nunavut.

“I was very pleased to participate, along with academic and business leaders from our province, in this week’s trade show in Nunavut,” said Keith Hutchings, minister, Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs. “The MOU between our jurisdictions was born of the shared commitment by both our governments to explore opportunities and promote sustainable development in the Arctic. I also had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Rourke during the Nunavut Conference and Tradeshow and was pleased to get an update about the NunaFam program which is furthering collaboration in health care between our province and Nunavut.”

Under the MOU, both governments have identified joint action and priority areas of co-operation. This commits both parties to ongoing collaboration, information sharing and facilitation of partnerships in mutually identified priority areas, including education and training, research and development, and health care.

“Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine is internationally known to have curriculum that places particular emphasis on community and rural medicine learning environments,”

said Dr. Rourke. “We’ve been able to take what we’ve learned about rural and Northern medicine in Newfoundland and Labrador and have applied it to the family medicine residency program that NunaFam established in Nunavut.”

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For more information, please contact Elizabeth Furey, communications co-ordinator, Faculty of Medicine, at (709) 864-6358 or elizabeth.furey@mun.ca.

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