Grande Prairie facility will train rural doctors

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The Government of Alberta will fund an innovative new partnership between the University of Alberta and Northwestern Polytechnic to allow medical students and family medicine residents to take all of their training in Grande Prairie and other northern Alberta communities.

In an announcement today, Rajan Sawhney, Alberta’s minister of Advanced Education, pledged $224.8 million to launch two new Rural Medical Education Program Training Centres in Grande Prairie and Lethbridge.

Albertans deserve access to timely medical care in every corner of our province,” said Sawhney. “Establishing the new training centres in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie is the first of many steps to solve the rural physician shortage. Advanced Education is committed to increasing support for Alberta’s medical schools, along with significant support encouraging more physicians to live and practise in rural settings.”

The goal of the new Rural Medical Education Program Training Centres is to fully prepare graduates for family medicine and general practice positions to address primary-care needs in rural, regional and Indigenous communities across Alberta. 

The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry has been a leader in demonstrating the value of rural training in preparing graduates for rural practice. It set up the Office of Rural and Regional Health in 2006 and was one of the first medical schools in Canada to establish its Rural Integrated Community Clerkship program in 2007.

“This is an important investment in medical education and primary health care in our province,” said Bill Flanagan, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta. “These regional training centres will give more students access to a world-class education with hands-on training in rural settings. I’m proud that we can play a leading role in building a more robust health-care system in Alberta.”

Northwestern Polytechnic, previously known as Grande Prairie Regional College, is a publicly funded educational institution that offers degree, university transfer, diploma and certificate programs, as well as apprenticeship and trades training.

“There has never been more demand for dedicated and skilled medical professionals with ties to rural communities,” said Vanessa Sheane, president and CEO of the polytechnic. “Northwestern Polytechnic is grateful for the opportunity to be part of a collaborative way forward that will help attract, educate and retain the physicians needed in our northernmost communities and across Alberta.”

The aim is for the first cohort of medical students to start their studies in the fall of 2025, with new spots open for undergraduate medical students, as well as more positions for general practice residents and international medical graduate residents. 

“Since the fall of 2023, the University of Alberta has been phasing in additional seats in the undergraduate medical education program as we work with our colleagues across the province to tackle the growing demands of our health system, in particular demands related to primary care,” said Brenda Hemmelgarn, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, and dean and vice-provost of the U of A’s College of Health Sciences. “Importantly, we will work with communities across Alberta for clinical placements as a part of this program, including Fort McMurray, Red Deer, High Level and Peace River, to name a few.” 

A similar Rural Medical Education Program Training Centre in Lethbridge is a partnership between the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine and the University of Lethbridge to train new doctors in southern Alberta.

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