Monday November 28, 2022 | SURREY, BC
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends
It’s the first new medical school in western Canada in over 50 years, as Premier David Eby put it in his announcement today at the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Surrey campus, in the Vancouver lower mainland area.
With an opening date forecast for the first student intake in September 2026, the new school is part of having more doctors in BC in future years.
The need for more doctors stems from the urgency of the current family doctor shortage in BC; about 900,000 people of BC’s over 5 million population do not have a family doctor. The problem is particularly acute in the largest urban centres like Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria.
The shortage has resulted in part from the retirement of many family physicians in the last five years due to age, as well as the rising costs of operating a family doctor practice as a private business.
This has seen many doctors find other ways to use their training — including private health care opportunities, online medicine, and leaving the country altogether.
Educating new physicians in BC is part of “medium and long term” goal to address the doctor shortage. A short-term solution was announced yesterday, as in bringing internationally-educated doctors into the fold.
Politics in health care:
Today Eby said that “abandoning universal health care” (doctors leaving for the private system, and patients with financial means choosing private options) “doesn’t solve the line, it just changes who’s at the front of the line”. He added: “As your Premier, I reject that notion.”
Eby’s wife Cailey Lynch is a family doctor (previously a nurse), as mentioned frequently by Eby in his public announcements. Eby himself is a lawyer. This is the first time that BC has had a double-barrelled professional team as the ‘first couple’ of BC.
Today’s event was clearly a highlight for Eby as he enters the highest profile of his career to date, and for Adrian Dix who has served long in the trenches (Health Minister since 2017, but health critic in the BC Legislature from the early 2000s’).
Dix has now, for decades, branded his politics with the well-being of the health care system, particularly universal health care. Today he quipped there is only one MLA ‘left of him’, referring to Harry Bains, MLA standing to the left of Dix in the room today.
Today’s announcement featured an investment of $4.9 million in startup funding. That will support activities such as accreditation, curriculum planning, engagement, space planning and professional staff to support the SFU medical school project office. Recruiting a dean for the school is a key action to be taken, said Eby.
This project phase will be under the direction of an interim dean, Dr Roger Strasser, who will provide strategic leadership in the planning and implementation of the medical school. Strasser was the founding dean and CEO of the Northern Ontario school of medicine and was described in a news release today a recognized leader in the development of health professional education.
“With this new medical school, the Province of BC is demonstrating its commitment to a strong public health-care system that meets the needs of its diverse and growing population. I am extremely excited to have this opportunity to join SFU to help deliver on that vision,” said Dr. Roger Strasser, interim dean, Simon Fraser University medical school, in today’s release.
This new investment builds on $1.5 million provided to the university earlier this year by the Province to support the development of the business case. A project board has been established to oversee this work.
Who was there:
Today’s announcement was delivered by Premier Eby along with Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training, with Health Minister Adrian Dix as emcee.
Minister Kang was credited by Dix for undertaking the groundwork for getting the current phase rolling.
“The new medical school will serve everyone in BC – particularly under-served populations – training the next generation of doctors in communities throughout the province,” said SFU president Joy Johnson.
An SFU student — Sherry Sandhu, taking her master of public health, said: “I am looking forward to contributing to the health-care system in B.C. It means a lot knowing that there will be more options close to home where I could stay in my community while pursuing my goals. I want to help and work in public health. I like the community here at Simon Fraser University and it’s very exciting and promising that I may have the opportunity to do this right here in Surrey at SFU.”
Minister of Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Bruce Ralston (MLA for Surrey-Whalley) was there, but not at the podium. “A new medical school in Surrey will ensure we are expanding our ability to train the next generation of doctors to work right here in our community and others around the province. Simon Fraser University’s work to begin the hiring of professors, consultations, and business-case planning puts this project on a solid path forward,” said Ralston in today’s news release.
The media session livestreamed from the Surrey campus was interrupted for a short time while some guest speakers were addressing the audience.
Five year plan:
“While we have made enormous progress to strengthen public health care over the past five years, we know that many British Columbians are struggling to find a family doctor and waiting too long for care on a waiting list or in an emergency room,” said Premier Eby.
“That’s why are taking action to train, recruit and retain family doctors now – and taking these steps with Simon Fraser University to train the health workforce we’ll need in the future. This investment in the first entirely new medical school in western Canada in 55 years will mean more family doctors graduating each year to provide care for people.”
BC’s Health Human Resources Strategy includes four areas: retain, redesign, recruit and train.
“I am excited to be part of the establishment of a second medical school, which is a huge step toward developing the infrastructure needed to train more doctors, so all British Columbians can access the care they need,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. She referred today to the new incoming students as ‘the future of medicine’.
“The development of the Simon Fraser University medical school will help meet the growing demand for physicians in BC over the longer term and train the next generation of doctors,” said Kang.
SFU’s medical school will take a focused approach to primary care, based on the university’s strength in community engagement and strong partnerships with the First Nations Health Authority, the Fraser Health Authority, other provincial health authorities and the practice community.
“Reciprocity, cultural safety and humility will be embedded throughout the school, along with First Nations, Inuit and Métis knowledge systems and perspectives,” it was stated in today’s release.
The new medical school curriculum will be built on four pillars:
- Educate graduates who are well prepared to provide the prevention and primary care needs of diverse communities and populations.
- Educate physicians to work in team-based primary care settings that are patient-centred and socially accountable.
- Commit to reciprocal community partnerships in the development and implementation of the medical school.
- Embed and equalize Indigenous knowledge systems.
Second medical school in BC:
“We’re marking a major milestone today in our commitment to train the doctors of tomorrow as work to establish B.C.’s second medical school takes a significant step forward,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.
“The new SFU medical school will create more opportunities for future doctors to learn, train and stay on to practise in communities throughout BC. In turn, British Columbians will have increased access to highly skilled, dedicated doctors close to home.”
The government says that “establishing a new medical school at SFU complements the more immediate work the Province is doing to train, recruit and retain more family physicians to meet the challenges people in British Columbia are now facing”.
Current medical school at UBC:
There are four academic campuses (at UBC in Vancouver, at UVic in Victoria, at UBC Okanagan campus, and at UNBC in Prince George), 11 Clinical Academic Campuses, 17 Affiliated Regional Centres and 65+ Community Education Facilities/ Rural and Remote Distributed Sites.
There is a wide range of UBC Medical School Programs including Doctor of Medicine (MD), Combined MD/PhD, Biomedical Engineering (BASc, MASc, MEng, PhD), Biomedical Research (MSc & PhD), medical lab science, genetic counselling, global surgical care, occupational therapy, midwifery, physical therapy, population and public health.
The Province also recently announced a seat expansion at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) faculty of medicine to train more doctors in BC. This includes 40 new undergraduate medical education seats and as many as 88 new residency seats at the UBC faculty of medicine, which will be phased in throughout the province beginning in 2023. The expansion will create more opportunities for students and resident doctors to learn, train and stay on to practise in communities throughout BC.
First intake Sept 2026:
SFU is working toward its first student intake at their Surrey campus by September 2026.
Training other health-care workers:
Today’s announcement builds on other actions to train and recruit more health-care workers in BC, including 602 new nursing seats and 322 allied health seats added to public post-secondary institutions throughout the province and recruiting 9,000 people through the health-career access program.
Training and retaining new physicians is just one part of B.C.’s Health Human Resources Strategy. It’s also part of StrongerBC’s Future Ready Plan, which is making education and training more accessible, affordable and relevant to help businesses grow and prepare British Columbians for the jobs of tomorrow.
===== Links (from BC Government):
B.C.’s Health Human Resources Strategy: https://strongerbc.gov.bc.ca/health-care
SFU’s medical school: http://www.sfu.ca/vpacademic/sfu-medical-school.html
===== ABOUT ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
Island Social Trends is a professional news portal at islandsocialtrends.ca . Fully online since mid-2020, Island Social Trends emerged from the extensive regional groundwork of previous print publications in the west shore: MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), and West Shore Voice News (2014-2020).
Since 2008, journalist and editor Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. Cert PR has taken a socioeconomic lens to the news of the west shore and south Vancouver Island region, including BC provincial news, and national news impacts.