NWP and U of A formalize agreement to train local physicians

On Friday, April 26, Grande Prairie took another step forward in ensuring better health care for Northern Alberta.

The University of Alberta (U of A) and Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding, formally uniting the institutions to bring physician training to Grande Prairie.

“I call it a transformation in both healthcare and education,” said Vanessa Sheane, president and CEO of NWP.

“Alberta is one of the few provinces that does not have a distributed medical education model, so if you want to become a doctor in Alberta, you currently have to go to school in Edmonton or Calgary; In most other provinces you can’t go to other non-major cities.”

She noted that communities in Northern BC have been successful with their partnerships with the University of British Columbia.

“NWP has worked hard to find innovative solutions to meet our needs and engage rural physicians to address the crisis in our area,” said City of Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton. “The rural medical education program will not only provide a strong draw for students, but also an opportunity to retain them in our region.”

Last month, the province announced $224.8 million for physician training at NWP and the University of Lethbridge.

NWP and U of A hope to start the first class of 30 medical students in the fall of next year.

Medical students receive accreditation from the U of A while attending NWP, taking classes on the Grande Prairie Campus and utilizing the Health Education Center at Grande Prairie Regional Hospital (GPRH).

“These students will be locally recruited, locally trained and continue to serve thousands of rural Albertans for the foreseeable future, and many will have the honor of providing patient care in their home communities,” said Brenda Hemmelgarn, U of A dean of faculty. of Medicine and Dentistry.

“We look forward to continuing to work with partners in communities across Northern Alberta to develop clinical placements, which will be just as important in communities like Peace River, High Level and Beaverlodge, to name a few.”

She said the school is also looking to the future to train other health professionals locally, such as nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and more.

“To truly provide primary care in a medical home model, you need to be broadly interdisciplinary, and that’s what we want to do,” Hemmelgarn said.

“When someone trains in an area, about 75 percent of the people stay, so this opportunity here has a huge impact for us here in Grande Prairie and the surrounding communities,” said Nolan Dyck, Grande Prairie MLA.

Subhed: Specialist training

Ken Drysdale, president of Maskwa Medical Center, announced that he hopes to break ground this fall to begin construction of the center just south of the current GPRH.

He said he hopes to complete the center by 2026 and then have the U of A move in to expand what is taught locally to doctors.

He said Maskwa would try to bring specialists to Grande Prairie who would work as a team and be able to diagnose critical medical cases on the spot.

The future three-story building will include a teaching clinic, a restaurant and a daycare center.

“Northern Alberta is fortunate to have a steadfast group of healthcare and education advocates who have proven their ability to effect monumental change,” Sheane said.

Subhed: Next steps

NWP will begin working on some classroom upgrades to facilitate physician training, Sheane said. She said upgrades to connect to the U of A in Edmonton will be made at the Health Education Centre, and an anatomy lab will be built on the Grande Prairie campus.

“We feel the pressure,” Hemmelgarn said, pointing to the influx of first students in the fall of 2025.

She said the first year of medical school is classroom-based, so the top priority is to ensure the curriculum is ready and a national pathway option is available in July when admissions open for the first intake.

She said even with the short time frame, she is confident they can deliver the program through online and distance learning programs if necessary.

Expansion of the family residency program will also come to the Grande Prairie area, Hemmelgarn said, noting the area is currently accepting seven residents and will now accept more.

She said physician training is split into two phases: the first phase is a four-year bachelor’s degree to earn their medical degree, and then residency training, where they do another two years to become a primary care physician or more for specialties.

The signing of the MOU took place at the Health Education Center and was blessed by local elder Loretta Parenteau-English.

For more information about Maskwa Medical Center, see next week’s issue of Town & Country News.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, City and Country News