More seats are being added to the medical training program at UNBC in Prince George in a bid to ease physician shortages in northern communities.
The increase from 32 seats to 40 seats each year takes place with the next round of first-year entrants this fall, eventually boosting the total number of medical student spots in Prince George to 160 across the four-year program.
Medical training in B.C. falls to the UBC medical school with the program at UNBC being one of three satellite locations. The others are in Victoria and Kelowna and each, like Prince George, is growing by eight seats. UBC itself is adding 16 seats.
At the same time, the province wants to create up to 88 more residency positions in B.C., also under the UBC medical school umbrella. Forty of those positions are for family medicine and are tagged for next year and a further 44 are slated in 2028, but how many will be in the north isn’t yet known.
A medical school graduate must still undergo two years as a resident under the supervision of a physician to fully qualify as a family physician and longer than that if the person wants to become a specialist.
Northwestern local governments, including the District of Houston, have identified the need for more resident positions in the north, saying that’s a crucial piece of the plan to increase the number of physicians.
As of now, UBC runs four family medicine resident programs in the north, two in Prince George, one in Fort St. John and one in Terrace taking in 21 people a year.
Fifteen of those spots are for Canadian graduates while six are for international medical graduates seeking Canadian certification.
“As a result, 42 family physicians are training across the two-year program at any time,” a comprehensive breakdown of northern B.C. physician training and provision programs from the provincial health ministry indicates.
While the province is moving to increase the supply of Canadian physicians, it is also increasing the number of internationally trained people being certified to practice medicine.
Since 2006 “59 family physicians and four specialists [have been] placed in 14 communities within the Northern Health Authority,” the information from the province stated regarding an international residency program run through UBC.
In return for that training, a family physician must agree to stay in a community designated as one in critical need of family physicians for two years.
Additionally, the province says 69 family physicians have been put in place in 14 northern communities since 2015 under another program aimed at certifiying internationally-trained family physicians.
Under this program, a person must agree to stay in a community in need of physicians for three years.
A just-ratified physician master agreement has also boosted physician pay generally while providing specifically for overhead and administration costs.
“Increased funding is also being provided to help rural doctors address rising business costs associated with living and practicing in rural communities,” the information from the province states.
Extra pay for northern physicians includes annual payments to stay in the north and travel and training allowances.