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Concerns abound regarding the new PEI med school

A new medical school at the University of Prince Edward Island is set to start its first class training in fall 2024. But the nagging question is, with ongoing doctor shortages on the island, who’s going to teach?

Construction is already underway. Officials have signed agreements with Newfoundland’s Memorial University to develop the program and are working on accreditation, but who will staff the program has yet to be announced.

That’s the pinch point for Dr. Michael Gardam, Health PEI CEO.

Gardem and other senior officials answered questions for the health committee Wednesday, among them concerns about whether the medical school would work.

“Right now, we’re asking all of our doctors to do 150 per cent clinical work, so how on Earth are we going to start pulling back our doctors to enable them to do teaching without doing massive backfilling” said Dr. Gardam.

Gardam said there’s no doubt a medical school on the island would offer a lot of value to islanders, if it became an integrated part of health delivery in the province.

“I really struggle with figuring out, the way our current system is, how we would possibly be able to recruit, and frankly, pay for all of these doctors that need to come to the island in order to do the education.”

There’s more to opening a medical school than the classroom. The final step of medical training is a residency, where new doctors practice their skills and work on their specialization before heading into independent practice.

PEI has just five residency slots a year.

“We are struggling right now to meet all the demands to teach the students we have, or the students who want to come,” said Dr. Kathie McNally, Health PEI chief medical officer. “We turn down about 50 per cent of requests for rotations because we don’t have the preceptors to do it.”

Typically 80 per cent of the doctors who do their residency on the island stay, which makes medical residencies critical for physical recruitment.

“What we know from the literature is that you’re more likely to stay where you do your residency, and so again, that residency program is super duper important,” said Dr. McNally.

UPEI is partnering with Memorial University on the medical school, which may be able to plug some of those gaps, but won’t ultimately solve the problem.

“If the alternative is, ‘Don’t worry, Memorial will do all that teaching and education,’ then I assume a lot of these students are going to be going to Newfoundland,” said Dr. Gardam. “At which point, they’re going to med school in Newfoundland.”

If so, Newfoundland will likely reap the benefits that the academic medical system and the new doctors it creates.