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OSMH plays lead role in educating future physicians

Carolyn Nowry’s educational trek toward becoming a licensed practising physician is now into its final stage and Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH), along with numerous local physicians, is helping to guide her to the finish line.  

The 25 year-old from Calgary, Alberta is one of three residents from the University of Toronto (U of T) medical program who will spend the final year of their residency at OSMH as part of the Rural Residency Program (RRP), which provides residents with practical work experience before they take that final step.  Also selected to take part this year are Payman Dehghani of Vancouver, British Columbia and Kimberley Forester of Bracebridge, Ontario.


In a rural program, residents often mimic the time that their preceptors (physicians who work alongside residents) split between seeing patients in an office setting with the time spent in hospital; working in departments like emergency, obstetrics or surgery. 


“Generally, physicians in smaller communities have a broader scope of practice,” said Nowry.  “That’s one of the big reasons I want to do rural medicine. I really like having a varied practice.”


As a large community hospital in Central Ontario, OSMH recognizes and embraces the important role it plays in providing medical education and mentorship to guide students and residents through the process.  


“We were one of the first rural residency programs in Canada,” said Dr. Si Lowry, a family physician in Orillia since 1982 and coordinator of the RRP.


“In family practice, the difference between rural and urban is really apples and oranges.  If you’re going to practice in the city, you probably won’t have hospital privileges, probably won’t be doing call, probably won’t work emergency or do obstetrics.  You’ll have an office-based practice and that’s the way it works.” 


Building upon a longstanding relationship between the hospital and the Family and Community Medicine department at U of T, Lowry approached the school about establishing an RRP that would allow residents to spend the entire second year of their program under the tutelage of practicing physicians here in Orillia.  That was 18 years ago and the program has been flourishing ever since. 


Dr. Lowry believes part of program’s success is due to a couple of key ingredients that residents are looking for: a role model and access to ongoing education. 


“When we train them here, it’s with the attitude that ‘we’ll give you the skills to go anywhere’.  Almost all our graduates have ended up in smaller settings, where they feel that they are using their skills and they feel comfortable and confident after training in a place like Orillia.” 


Dehghani is impressed with OSMH and is especially looking forward to working in the Emergency Department with its “high volumes”.


“I really like getting my hands dirty, being very practical,” said Dehghani.  “I see my future career in a lot smaller towns in Canada as well as abroad so it will be a good preparation for that.”


A resident of Bracebridge, Forester came through the Northern Ontario School of Medicine before being accepted into the University of Toronto and was excited to be chosen for the RRP in Orillia. 


“I knew the hospital was outstanding and I knew the specialists were all excellent teachers,” said Forester.


In comparison to a city residency program, Forester admits the “resources may be different, but so are the opportunities. It’s so much more hands on.”


Dr. Si Lowry is proud of the success and growth of the program that has expanded this year to add a third student; a huge commitment for the people running the program and the preceptors who take in the residents for months at a time. 


And with more than half of graduates setting up practice in Orillia, Lowry is well aware of the important role that the RRP plays in the community’s ongoing physician recruitment efforts.  It’s estimated that as many as 20 more family physicians and 20 more specialists will be required in Orillia over the next three years to meet anticipated demands.


“Unfortunately, its going to be a struggle,” said Lowry.  “We will not have enough doctors; however, we’re going to be much better off than most communities because we have this teaching program in place.”


The RRP is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to medical education at OSMH. 

Along with residents, OSMH has been increasing the number of medical students who are at various stages of learning.  


Over the last five years, the total number of medical students and residents who’ve come through OSMH has doubled from 44 in 2004/05 to 88 in 2009/10.


One area that draws significant interest is Paediatrics, where the department’s strong reputation is proving to be a magnet for students and residents eager to learn.


“The department has two learners with us at all times – one medical student and one resident,” said Dr. Michelle Gordon, Chief of Neonatal and Paediatric Medicine at OSMH.


“We get medical students from McMaster University, usually about 10 each year, who come for a month to do a core rotation in paediatrics, as well as residents. This year we also have five residents from SickKids Hospital in Toronto who are in their final year of training and are completing a one-month core rotation.  Unfortunately, I’ll turn away 5-10 learners a year who would also like to come and work with the paediatricians here.” 


Three of the five paediatricians currently on staff at OSMH have come through the hospital as residents and elected to stay, including Drs. Gordon, Rob Meeder and Sarah Barker. 


As much as the hospital is first and foremost a place of healing, it is also a place of learning, with the continual sharing of knowledge for the benefit of all.


“I’ll continue to teach as long students want to come to communities like this,” said Dr. Lowry.  “I do it because it’s probably the biggest gift I can give the community, because it’s attracted so many great docs and it doesn’t cost anything.”

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