British Columbia is getting a new medical school, but it will be the end of the decade before any new doctors graduate from the university, says Premier David Eby.
The school at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus will be part of the New Democrat government’s long-range public health-care plans, Eby said at a news conference on Monday.
Former B.C. premier John Horgan promised the school at Simon Fraser during the 2020 election campaign.
“This is a long-term investment in a secure public health-care system that works for everybody in our province,” said Eby. “There are considerable logistics behind setting up a new medical school and doing it properly, and so that work is underway and we’re going as quickly as we can.”
The new school will not solve the immediate health-care troubles facing the province, he said.
Eby said he expected the medical school to open in 2026 and the first doctors will graduate in 2030.
The government has been facing public and Opposition criticism about the growing shortage of family doctors, crowded emergency departments and crumbling health-care services.
The government will provide $4.9 million in initial funding to support curriculum, space and staff planning and to hire an interim dean, he said. Dr. Roger Strasser, the founding dean and CEO of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, will be the school’s interim dean.
Eby, who succeeded Horgan earlier this month, said the school is part of the government’s strategy to train more family doctors and will be the first new medical school in Western Canada in 55 years.
“I believe that B.C. should be a place where everyone can build a good life,” he said. “Where you can afford a good place to live. Where you get the health care you need, where and when need it and where you have the training opportunities to pursue your dreams, and frankly, especially today if your dream includes potentially being a doctor someday.”
Eby has been making a series of announcements on public safety, cost of living, housing and health care since being sworn in as premier.
The Ministry of Finance projected a $5-billion budget surplus last week, of which Eby’s recent promises have amounted to more than $1 billion.
The Opposition Liberals said the government’s delayed medical school promise will worsen the health-care crisis, where one million people in B.C. do not have a family doctor.
“The NDP promised to create a second medical school back in October 2020 and said we could expect graduates as soon as the 2023 school year,” said Liberal health critic Shirley Bond in a statement. “Today’s announcement that B.C. won’t see new doctors graduate from SFU until 2030 is devastating news for those expecting swift action from their government in the middle of a health-care crisis.”
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the NDP has been making some progress on addressing the province’s doctor shortage but is not doing enough to focus on emergency departments overcrowded with children facing respiratory illnesses and COVID-19.
“Currently, the most pressing issue is the level of illness among children in B.C. and the dire conditions we are seeing in pediatric hospitals in B.C.,” she said at a news conference in Victoria.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said last week the government was considering cancelling non-emergency surgeries at hospitals to make room for children needing emergency care.
B.C. Children’s Hospital said that it has started triaging less serious patients from its emergency department to a nearby area due to a surge of people with respiratory illness.
Eby introduced measures on the weekend to triple the number of internationally trained family doctors who can become licensed in B.C. to 96 by March 2024.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed challenges and added further strains in the health-care system, with too many B.C. residents struggling to find a family doctor.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.