July 20th, 2024

Medical teaching school at U of L a positive step

By Lethbridge Herald on March 13, 2024.


In southern Alberta, members of the rural medical community, and indeed the populace at large, have been heartened by last week’s 2024 provincial budget announcement of a $43-million allocation for a Rural Medical Teaching School at the University of Lethbridge. 

While we wait for further details to emerge on the vision for this initiative, the government has said the school’s mandate (in collaboration with the University of Calgary) will be to train and retain doctors in southern Alberta, particularly in smaller communities. 

Officials will no doubt be examining successful regional medical schools as potential models, such as the Northern Medical Program in B.C. and Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), where methods result in a 95 per cent retention rate of students staying to become Family Practitioners in those regions.

The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) estimates upwards of 650,000 Albertans are searching for a family doctor, and Primary Care Network data locally (2021) estimates 43,000 of those are in the Lethbridge region. 

Rural areas are particularly hard hit. On its website, the AMA presents the stark truth through data gathered from front-line family physicians – Alberta’s family medicine system is collapsing, it says, urging residents to press their political officials about their plans to address the crisis. 

An investment like this one that prioritizes healthcare in underserved regions, is a positive and hopeful step.  

Internationally, most notably in Australia, successful models could inform this initiative.

Knowing this, and if this school is to lead to a stronger healthcare workforce across southern Alberta, it would do well to be given an autonomous budget, have a focussed admissions policy, and boast a rurally focussed curriculum with an emphasis on team-training that would include Physician Assistants (PAs), Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Nurses, Medical Office Assistants (MOAs), and Licenced Practical Nurses (LPNs). 

In short, a place where dream teams are made.

If an inter-professional model is adopted, PAs and NPs trained at the new school would graduate ahead of the medical students and could start providing support at clinics and emergency rooms about two years after the school opens.

    Such a program could become a beacon for rural healthcare team training, with the welcome side-effect of an inevitable economic upswing.

 The economic development benefit seen in Northern Ontario, approximately $100 million annually, is not unlikely in this region.

This is an opportunity to reverse the trend of the evaporating pool of students choosing family medicine. Evidence shows when prospective family doctors know they can train where they live – in smaller communities – and will be provided with grounded experiences inside of rural communities, they are likely to remain in a community of that size to begin their careers.   

Lethbridge College has much to offer here as well. The college trains LPNs, nurses for their first two years of the Bachelor of Nursing degree (completed at the U of L), MOAs (which replaced the Unit Clerk program) and should be included in the planning, as well. 

Planners would likely do well to nourish further collaboration between the city’s two post-secondary institutions. 

Last week’s funding commitment pours a little fuel in the tank of a system running on fumes.

 We encourage Albertans to keep it topped up by talking to their legislative representatives and writing letters to media outlets and government. 

Family doctors need all hands on deck.  

Dr. Douglas Myhre, Professor Emeritus, Cumming School of Medicine

Mr. Trevor Lewington, Mayor of Stirling and CEO of Economic Development Lethbridge

Dr. Peter A. Koegler, Family Physician, Lethbridge

Dr. Richard Buck, Emergency Physician, Lethbridge 

Dr. Morgan Hay, Rural Family Medicine Resident 

Dr. Kristi Penner, Rural Family Physician, Pincher Creek

Dr. Brent Francis, Anesthesiologist, Lethbridge 

Dr. David Koegler, Gastroenterologist, (retired) Lethbridge 

Dr. Robert Wedel, Rural Family Physician, Co-founder and Director of Health Innovation in Action

Mr. Cliff Elle, Former Supt., Livingstone Range School Division, Volunteer AHS

Dr. Charlotte Haig, Family Physician, Lethbridge

Colleen Bianchi, Chair, Oldman River Health Advisory Committee 

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Fedup Conservative

Don’t hold your breath. A hospital approved by the NDP near us in Edmonton has now been delayed on two occasions by these Reformers although $69 million has been spent on it. We know how broke these Reformers are while they continue to help the rich steal our oil and corporate taxes.


Settle down Al. My Doctor indicates it will be a good thing provided the Human Resources locally (our current DRs.) are available for leading interns around. Bet you didn’t think of that while you and your oilman buddies were gaslighting Klein, Reformers, and stupid seniors. Go away.

Fedup Conservative

I didn’t say it wasn’t a good idea because it is, but can you prove when it will be built when we know how broke this government is by helping the rich steal our and tax and oil wealth. Red Deer has tried to get help with a new hospital for years and these Reformers have ignored them. Now they are doing it under a 3 p project that us Bankers know can increase costs to taxpayers by as much as twice or three times. Can you prove it doesn’t?