The Crucial Need for Action: Addressing the Doctor Shortage in Northern Ontario

The scarcity of medical doctors in Northern Ontario has reached a critical stage that demands immediate action to not only attract more doctors but also find effective ways to retain them in the region. Failure to do so will continue to exacerbate the decline of overall healthcare services available to Northern Ontario residents.

During an online news conference, key figures in the healthcare industry such as Ontario Medical Association President Dr. Andrew Park, NOSM University President and CEO Dr. Sarita Verma, Marathon family physician and NOSM Assistant Dean of Physician Workforce Strategy Dr. Sarah Newbury, and Dr. Laurel Laakso, Chief of Staff at Meno Ya Win Health Centre, emphasized the need for urgent intervention.

Dr. Newbury highlighted the unique challenges faced by Northern Ontario due to its vast geographic area of 800,000 square kilometers and a population of fewer than one million people. These factors hinder the delivery and accessibility of healthcare services, resulting in a lower life expectancy for Northern Ontario residents compared to the rest of the province.

To address this pressing issue, more than 360 physicians were actively being recruited to reside and practice in Northern Ontario as of last June. However, Dr. Newbury emphasized the importance of implementing a comprehensive Northern strategy, focusing on recruiting, mentoring, and supporting physicians, in order to foster retention and reestablish a robust healthcare system in the region.

In essence, the healthcare system across Northern Ontario must collaborate and align efforts to overcome these challenges. Dr. Newbury used the analogy of being in the same canoe, emphasizing the need for unity and shared direction to successfully implement the physician workforce strategy.

Dr. Laakso, based in Sioux Lookout, shared the dire consequences of the family doctor shortage in her community. Many residents are unable to access primary care at all, and wait times to see a physician in her own practice range from four to five months. This results in compromised healthcare and a strain on emergency-room services.

Dr. Verma shed light on the gravity of the doctor shortage for Northern Ontario communities. Unlike in highly populated regions, where multiple hospitals and walk-in clinics are readily available, Northern Ontario faces a geographical disadvantage. Closing a local emergency room, such as in Wawa, poses a significant threat to individuals in need of immediate care, as the nearest alternatives require long drives or air travel.

It is evident that health travel and access to timely healthcare pose significant challenges in Northern Ontario. The discussion concluded with Dr. Verma highlighting the necessity for individuals with decision-making power to step up and address the shortage and healthcare access concerns. Collaboration among multiple agencies, Ontario Health, the Ministry of Health, regulatory bodies, and the Ontario Medical Association is crucial to drive the change that Northern Ontario desperately needs.


Q: What is the current state of the doctor shortage in Northern Ontario?
A: The shortage of medical doctors in Northern Ontario has reached a critical stage, necessitating immediate action to address the issue.

Q: How does the shortage affect healthcare services in Northern Ontario?
A: The shortage has led to declining overall healthcare services in the region, negatively impacting the health and well-being of Northern Ontario residents.

Q: What strategies are being employed to attract doctors to the region?
A: Active recruitment efforts are underway to attract more than 360 physicians to reside and practice in Northern Ontario.

Q: What challenges does Northern Ontario face in terms of healthcare access?
A: Due to the vast geographic area and low population density in Northern Ontario, accessing healthcare services poses significant challenges for residents.

Q: What is the importance of collaboration in addressing this issue?
A: Collaborative efforts and a united direction are crucial to successfully implement a physician workforce strategy and overcome the challenges posed by the doctor shortage.