‘Timing is right’: Cape Breton University campaigns to open medical campus

Click to play video: 'CBU Proposes Med School To “bring healthcare solutions to Nova Scotia”'
CBU Proposes Med School To “bring healthcare solutions to Nova Scotia”
Cape Breton University vice-president of finance and operations, Gordon MacInnis, joins us to discuss CBU’s plans to bring a medical school to Cape Breton Island by 2025 – Nov 9, 2022

Cape Breton University is campaigning for support to open a medical school on the island, an idea that Nova Scotia’s health authority says is “exciting.”

Gordon MacInnis, the university’s vice-president of finance and operations, said CBU wants to have its own medical campus up and running by 2025.

MacInnis said in recent years, strategic planning consultations around the island showed the top concern was “unsurprisingly” healthcare.

“Our belief is that a prosperous community requires a good health-care system,” MacInnis said.

“We think the timing is right and we look forward to tabling some very innovative solutions to make a real impact not only for Cape Breton, but for rural areas of Nova Scotia.”

Read more: Nova Scotia family doctor wait list hits record high at more than 116,000 people

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It’s not the first time the university has wanted to do this. In 2012, under former CBU president John Harker, the university proposed opening what would be the province’s second medical school, but traction for the idea was lacking.

Planning for the renewed idea begun about four years ago, and over the past year the university has consulted local physicians and over 80 community leaders, “all of whom were quite supportive,” MacInnis said.

“Right now we’re trying to build our case for support.”

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Nova Scotia Health “has been consulted and is collaborating with the university,” the health authority told Global News in an email.

Vice President of Medicine for Nova Scotia Health, Dr. Nicole Boutilier, said, “the potential for an additional medical school is exciting.

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“Creating another source of well-trained medical graduates is one strategy that will help with our international recruitment shortages.”

Read more: Health care challenges persist in N.S. as government maintains promise to ‘fix’ system

MacInnis said he has heard concerns raised from physicians who say there aren’t enough health-care professionals to teach at a second medical school in the province, and that having to do so would worsen the doctor shortage crisis.

“We are under no illusion that simply propping up more medical seats here in Cape Breton is going to be the silver bullet to fix the system,” he said.

“It’s a complicated problem. We are gathering input from our physician community.”

The family doctor waitlist in Nova Scotia hit an all-time-high last month, with more than 116,000 residents waiting for a primary care provider, more than 11 per cent of the total population.

Read more: N.S. to provide office space for some doctors as recruiting incentive

That shortage, along with Nova Scotia’s goal to double its population to two million people by 2060, is a sign that timing for a second medical school is right, according to MacInnis.

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“We need to start now, in terms of creating more capacity to build resources for the future.”

The provincial government said no decision has been made yet about opening another medical school in N.S.

“A detailed plan has not been received from Cape Breton University,” said Monica MacLean, spokesperson for the Department of Advanced Education, in an email.

“Government is taking steps to address problems in healthcare, and we are open to all possible solutions. Recruiting and training doctors and other healthcare workers is our number one priority knowing more are needed to meet the needs of our growing and aging population.”

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Currently the only medical school in Nova Scotia is provided by Dalhousie University in Halifax.

CBU’s MacInnis said there are talks of a potential partnership in plans for the new medical school.

“We’ve talked with several medical schools, including Dalhousie,” he said.

“What we’re looking for is a partner that sees things our way, and maybe is prepared to work together to create some innovative approaches to how we train physicians.”

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MacInnis said details are still in early stages of planning and an estimated cost of getting the program off the ground isn’t available yet. Though it won’t be a small amount, MacInnis said the cost of not doing it could be much greater in the future.

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