In the Beginning

The uneven rural-urban distribution of physicians has been at the centre of discussion for a number of years. Manitoba's action plan is comprehensive and quite proactive. It integrates strategies from recruitment to training to continuing education.

The Office of Rural and Northern Health was organized and established as a component of the Manitoba Rural Physician Action Plan, a commitment by Manitoba Health with the following goal in mind:

Increase the number of graduating physicians and other health care professionals who choose rural and northern Manitoba as a place to live and practice their professions.

The office was in the planning stages for several years and began functioning with a half-time medical director in September 2002. The main office is physically located in Dauphin, and staffed by the Administrative Director-Wayne Heide,  Program Assistant-Ashley Shaw, & Manitoba's Locum Tenens Program Coordinator - Dawn Piasta.

A secondary office located at the Boundary Trails Health Centre in Winkler is staffed by the project's medical director, Dr. Don Klassen. He provides medical leadership to the programs that are managed and coordinated by the ORNH in addition to maintaining a half-time medical practice in Winkler and at Boundary Trails Health Centre.

The Regional Health Authorities of Manitoba Inc. (RHAM) oversees the operation of the office.

The Growing Years

There were a number of systemic and attitudinal challenges that affected the fulfillment of the ORNH's vision, mandate and activities.

  • Assisting students undertaking post secondary education to adjust from living in a smaller rural or northern community to a larger urban centre.
  • Assisting communities to attract and keep health care providers.
  • Keeping individuals from rural and northern areas in health care training programs connected to rural and northern communities.
  • Increasing the number and variety of rural and northern training experiences for health care trainees.
  • Increased involvement of communities in the process of recruiting and retaining health care professionals.
  • Increasing rural and northern representation on the Faculty of Medicine’s committees.
  • Improving the image of family physicians relative to other physician specialties.
  • Improving the linkages to rural communities from urban areas where specialized services will continue to be concentrated.Highlighting the need for additional research on policies and strategies for improving health care in smaller communities.
  • Developing innovative incentive programs that include return of service agreements that do not create animosity with physicians as a result of the perception that their practice options are being limited.Assisting communities to attract and keep health care providers.
  • Providing service to each of the ORNH client groups while understanding that each group will have its own needs and priorities and that few, if any ORNH initiatives will appeal to all of the Office's client groups collectively. Rather, it is the task of ORNH to work with each client group to develop and deliver initiatives that meet their particular needs within the context of the larger principle and goal of promoting the health care opportunities that exist in rural and northern Manitoba.

Where We Are Going

The Office of Rural and Northern Health will play a key role in assisting regional health authorities, rural and northern students interested in health care careers and practicing physicians in the following areas:

  • Development of financial support for rural and northern students interested in pursuing health care careers.
  • Encouragement of students from rural and northern backgrounds to pursue careers in medicine and provide academic and social supports to those who do.
  • Expand rural and northern training opportunities for residents in family medicine and medical specialties and for students in other health care training programs.
  • Work with communities to keep them connected to people from their areas who are pursuing careers in the health care sector.
  • Develop more rural and northern training and practicum placements and summer work experiences.
  • Make rural health a more important part of the medical training curriculum.Work with communities and RHA's to determine how they can more effectively retain existing health care staff.Involve entire communities in the recruitment and retention process.
  • Involvement with the Manitoba Locum Tenens Program.
  • Work with the CME department to ensure practicing rural physicians have access to CME opportunities relevant to the community they serve.
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive contact management and career tracking system that will monitor individuals from Manitoba who are interested in medicine as a career, enrolled in a medical training program or currently practicing in the health care sector.