Medical school students’ association speaking out over scrapped rural doctor incentive program

Medical students graduating to become doctors in Winnipeg. Global News / File

A program that was meant to recruit new doctors to rural areas in Manitoba was scrapped by the province, and medical school students are speaking out about not being included in talks for a replacement program.

“It was very sudden,” Achieng Tago from the Manitoba Medical Students’ Association said. “Right now we are students but eventually we are going to be the physicians hopefully in Manitoba and it’s important to be seen as a stakeholder group in the discussions.”

In 2001 the return of service program was launched as a way to recruit new doctors to work in rural areas. How it worked is the province offered grants over the course of their four-year program, at $12,000 per year with the agreement that the student would work in a rural community for six months upon graduating for each year they received the grant.

RELATED: University of Manitoba says more than half of new doctors set to stay in province

The province scrapped the program in April citing issues such as it took six to nine years before a student getting a grant can work and that there was no way to guarantee the doctor would work in a community that was in need.

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Tago said the students’ association has sent out letters asking to be included in talks of a replacement program to all 57 MLAs over the last two weeks. They have yet to hear a response.

“It was just very much the need to have us included in the conversation and the need to have something very soon put in place,” she said.

READ: MMSA’s full letter to the province after the rural doctor incentive program was scrapped

Last year there were 229 students taking part in the program.

Over the past five years, only about 23 per cent of doctors in the province work outside of Winnipeg, according to data from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.

Dr. Brian Postl, the Dean of the College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba said there’s still a need for rural physicians. The college is working to expose students to rural practice.

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“We’ve really focused on what are those exposures, how do we make sure they understand that it’s not all about working in a tertiary care hospital, that there are many different roles and increasingly that’s where the needs were,” Postl said.

“There still are communities looking for additional physicians and frankly as the practice grows in rural areas that will create a need for more physicians once again to meet the needs.”

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