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New OMA president wants more support for Northern doctors

Dominik Nowak was named new president of the Ontario Medical Association at the annual general meeting held in Sudbury on May 2
Dr. Dominik Nowak, president of the Ontario Medical Association. 

Dr. Dominik Nowak, the new president of the Ontario Medical Association, was officially recognized in Sudbury last night as the OMA held its annual general meeting in this city. The meeting is a closed affair and the media were not invited.

Speaking to Friday morning, Nowak said that while there are many challenges to being a family doctor in Ontario these days, there are many unique challenges faced by family doctors in Northern Ontario. Nowak said he believes more needs to be done to "level the playing field" for Northern physicians.

Nowak, who visited NOSM University on May 2, said he was so impressed to see many of the Northern Ontario medical students studying for family medicine and getting ready to return to set up practice in small towns.

"And they love being part of the communities that they're serving, right? They love the medicine. How do we get them the support that they need to care for their communities? And how do we get people in their communities that kind of support?" Nowak asked.

"I'd love to see a northern human health resources strategy to finally level out the playing field between different parts of our healthcare system, including what people need in the North."

Nowak said one of the concerns in Northern Ontario communities is that many family doctors work alone without team support. He said the future of modern family health care has to be team-based medical care. He said for looking to the future, primary health care in Northern Ontario has to be a group effort.

"The strategy would be a team sport, okay, where we put our minds together with different organizations with groups that are there doing the hard work in the North serving Northern communities, and thinking through okay, what do we need for now to fill in some of those supports that people need?"

Nowak said the OMA and the province need to make medium and longterm plans to ensure that new family doctors can move into Northern communities and be successful.

"But then how do we make this sustainable for 10 years from now, for 20 years from now?” he said. “Because we know that graduating a doctor, getting a doctor into that community isn't a thing that you can do for tomorrow, for a week from now. It's something that you actually need months and years to plan ahead for."

He added that many doctors in remote and rural areas are finding that patients need care for many medical services that are not provided. 

"So for example, there's a big shortage of maternity and delivery care, adult obstetrics care in many Northern communities. So that last part, how do we make sure that doctors have those opportunities to get the training they need to serve their communities in terms of some of those special areas that their communities need?" Nowak said.

"And it's such a different problem. It's such a different issue here in the North, where the closest hospital that does maternity care isn't just a 20-minute drive away or a 30-minute drive away. It's three, four, five or more hours away.”

Nowak said another significant concern in Northern Ontario is the opioid crisis where the number of people with Opioid Use Disorder is disproportionately high compared to the population. He said opioid problems put higher than normal pressures on health care in terms of being able to provide mental health and addictions treatments.

He said many of the health problems Ontario is facing in 2024 are not new. He said society has known about them for years, but the time has some where chronic underfunding has finally caught up with us.

"It is a lot of things being slammed at one time. And at the same time, it's an opportunity for us to think about how do we plan for the future in terms of the health system," he said.

Nowak said Ontario needs a better plan and a different plan "and not just solving the right now, and not just the Bandaid or the fill-in solution, the temporary fix, but also how do we make it sustainable. And a big part of that is, let's make sure everyone has a family doctor. And that's sustainable," said Nowak. 

Len Gillis covers health care and mining for

Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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