The outlook for rural medicine in northern Alberta brightened as Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP) and the University of Alberta (U of A) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formalize an innovative medical education partnership in Northern Alberta.

More than 100 eager witnesses gathered at Northwestern Polytechnic’s Health Education Centre, located in the state-of-the-art Grande Prairie Regional Hospital (GPRH), for the historic event. Representatives from the U of A, NWP, and Maskwa Medical Centre were on hand, as well as MLAs, local government leaders, and health and education professionals from across Alberta.

“This MOU signals another step forward for health and education in our region,” says Northwestern Polytechnic President and CEO, Dr. Vanessa Sheane. “We are deeply appreciative of the Government of Alberta’s continued support and commitment to the North, and grateful for the efforts of all who have been on this journey with us over the last two years.”

The establishment of the Rural Medical Education Program Training Centres (RMEPTC) is part of an Alberta Government strategy and investment announced earlier this month. 

“This agreement is an example of how post-secondary institutions can collaborate to solve challenges and create opportunities that benefit all Albertans,” says University of Alberta President and Vice-Chancellor Bill Flanagan. “By giving more students access to the University of Alberta’s top-tier medical education, we are playing a lead role in ensuring that people throughout northern Alberta will have access to high-quality primary health care where they live."

With the MOU now official, Northwestern Polytechnic and the University of Alberta will continue to work together to fill 30 seats in the inaugural Doctor of Medicine program. Aspiring medical professionals will have the opportunity to become diverse, competent, and compassionate physician leaders, as they complete the entirety of their University of Alberta medical degree at Northwestern Polytechnic’s Grande Prairie Campus and adjacent Health Education Centre.

Clinical placements in a variety of acute, community, Indigenous, and other healthcare settings will also be integral in deepening physician ties to the North. A unique feature of this new northern partnership is also a teaching clinic within the upcoming Maskwa Medical Centre development. Once operational, this integral component of the broader RMEPTC initiative, will add much needed primary care capacity for Albertans.

“Maskwa Medical Center Executive and Board have stepped up to support the medical school mandates set out by the Province in June of 2023,” says Ken Drysdale, Chairman, Maskwa Medical Centre. “We are proud to partner with University of Alberta and Northwestern Polytechnic medical academic programs to ensure the healthcare needs of NW Alberta residents are met in the coming years. Our facility will complement the training of family physicians, providing wrap around services to GPRH staff and patients. We will continue to advocate for a team-based approach to specialists in diagnosis of complex medical conditions.”

Working together, the U of A and NWP are hoping to attract, train, and retain physicians where they are needed most. The U of A will be accepting applications starting July 2024 for the anticipated first program intake in Fall 2025.

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Information provided by Northwestern Polytechnic

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