Training and retaining health-care professionals in northern Ontario

Waterloo partnership with NOSM University is advancing equity in health care and well-being in the north Office of Research Canada is facing a health care crisis due to escalating costs, a shortage of health-care professionals and increasing needs from an aging population. The effects of this crisis are felt more profoundly in remote, rural and Indigenous communities, where the shortage of health-care workers is greater. That’s where the University of Waterloo’s partnership with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine University (NOSM University) comes in.

Waterloo and NOSM University have been long-standing partners through clinical collaborations with Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy. In 2022, NOSM University became the first independent medical university in Canada. It signed a collaboration agreement with Waterloo in the same year to allow both institutions to work together towards improving and expanding health care in northern Ontario communities. NOSM University’s expertise in social accountability, community-engaged research and medical education complement Waterloo’s emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches to health research and extensive community partnerships.

Since the opening of the School of Pharmacy in 2008, the two universities have been partnering to recruit, train and retain health-care professionals in the north. The School of Pharmacy encourages students in its Doctor of Pharmacy program to train in Northern Ontario communities, centred in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, and collaborate with NOSM University’s faculty and students. Throughout 24 weeks of patient care rotations, Pharmacy students can take part in inter-professional education initiatives with medical students, organized by the School and NOSM University.

"Practising in the North is a fantastic opportunity for students to develop their skills and understand the uniqueness of these communities. Waterloo Pharmacy and NOSM University have a shared goal of educating professionals to provide equitable health care, particularly in communities that have limited access to Additionally, a newly established graduate student exchange program between Waterloo and NOSM University allows Waterloo graduate students to live and engage in research at NOSM University while NOSM University students do the same at Waterloo. The exchanges run for four to 16 weeks at the host institution.

"The goal of the graduate student exchange program is to encourage new collaborations focused on research and graduate student experience with NOSM University," says Grace Gomashie, project co-ordinator, Health Initiatives at Waterloo. "Having it available to grad students in all six faculties means that collaborative research and knowledge exchange can happen across multiple disciplines. Students in the Faculty of Mathematics, for example, can apply their skills and knowledge in artificial intelligence in creating innovative health solutions for hospitals. At the same time, Engineering students apply their skills in remote sensing and imaging technologies."