New family medicine stream at Memorial increases medical training opportunities in N.L.

Aug 16th, 2022

Terri Coles & Virginia Middleton

Dr. Mikaela Murphy hopes she is setting an example for other family physicians who want to come to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Murphy is an international medical graduate (IMG) who returned to her home province to complete her residency and hopefully set up practice here.

More physicians like her will soon have the opportunity to complete their residency training in Newfoundland and Labrador. On Aug. 16, the provincial government announced funding to increase the number of residency seats at Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine.

A physician’s journey

With a passion for travel and a desire to be a doctor and heal those around her, Dr. Murphy was able to combine the two by beginning her medical training at University College Cork in Ireland.

“I got incredibly lucky that my gamble paid off but I know many others who were not as lucky.”— Dr. Mikaela Murphy

There, she obtained a bachelor medicine, bachelor surgery and bachelor in the art of obstetrics following two years of biochemistry and behavioural neuroscience at Memorial.

“I have always been a very “two-brained” person, someone who loved science and math, but also the humanities and creative outlets,” she said. “I knew I wanted a career that would allow me to have a positive impact on people’s lives. Medicine seemed like the best way to do that while fulfilling all aspects of my intellect and personality — the analytical side and the human side.”

As an IMG, however, applying to residency training programs at medical schools across Canada was a bit more complicated.

“I knew I wanted to return to Newfoundland for my residency, and my resumé very much reflected that. Unfortunately, because there were not many IMG seats, I first had to apply to the other medical schools in Canada and, in many ways, hoped I went unmatched and that a spot went unfilled at Memorial. I got incredibly lucky that my gamble paid off but I know many others who were not as lucky.”

More residency opportunities

Currently, the Faculty of Medicine offers 80 entry-level residency seats that are allocated across its various training programs; the Discipline of Family Medicine’s residency program accounts for 35 of these seats.

The program has five streams: eastern, central, western, northern and Nunavut. Each stream provides unique teaching and learning experiences related to their communities. The new IMG match stream will be connected to the eastern stream cohort.

Today, Premier Andrew Furey announced an increase of five residency seats in the family medicine program, and the reservation of those seats for IMGs, at an event held at the Faculty of Medicine on the St. John’s campus.

“It is our hope that these extra seats will help address physician recruitment and retention challenges in the province, particularly in rural and remote regions,” said Premier Furey, a Memorial alumnus (MD’01). “It also represents another pathway for Canadian medical school graduates to return to Canada to practice.”

A group of people stand in front of several branded backdrops of Memorial University and the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government.
From left are Dr. Russell Dawe, Dr. Mikaela Murphy, Premier Andrew Furey, Minister Tom Osborne and Dr. Sohaib Al-Asaaed.

The dean of the Faculty of Medicine said that, as the only medical school in the province, Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine plays an important role in supporting physician recruitment and retention.

“This expansion of our family medicine program will provide an opportunity to give hands-on experiences to Canadian citizens or permanent Canadian residents to complete their residency program in Newfoundland and Labrador with the goal that they remain here to practice,” said Dr. Margaret Steele, interim provost, vice-president (academic), and dean of medicine.

Tom Osborne, minister of Health and Community Services, also emphasized the need to collaborate.

“Providing this opportunity for residents may increase the likelihood that they may stay in the province to practise as a family physician upon graduation,” he said. “We must continue to work together on creative solutions like this one in our efforts to attract and keep health-care professionals.”

$3 million in funding

The proposed operating budget for the additional five residency seats is $1.7 million in 2022-23 and $1.5 million in future years, annualized.

Eligible candidates must submit their application for a residency position through the Canadian Resident Matching Service and meet the Postgraduate Medical Education office’s general admission requirements.

“We know that these new family medicine residents will embrace N.L. as their home and stay here to practise medicine in the long term.”— President Vianne Timmons

These requirements include holding a medical degree from a school recognized by the World Directory of Medical Schools and proof of proficiency in English.

The application process opens in fall 2022; successful candidates start postgraduate training on July 1, 2023.

“We thank the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for providing the support needed to increase the number of medical residents, which will benefit our communities,” said President Vianne Timmons. “We know that these new family medicine residents will embrace Newfoundland and Labrador as their home and stay here to practise medicine in the long term.”

Coming home

For physicians like Dr. Murphy, the opportunity to come home and care for the people in her home province means everything.

“This announcement means that more Canadians and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will have a chance to consider Memorial for their residency, and that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians studying abroad will have the opportunity to come home,” she said. “Ultimately, I hope that means more family doctors staying and working in Newfoundland and Labrador.”