York’s new medical school and the ongoing physician shortage

(Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash)

Ontario is in the midst of a family doctor shortage. Across the province, around two million people are reported to be without a family physician, a number which is expected to grow to 4.4 million by 2026. 

There are a number of overarching reasons for why this is the case, but York is currently trying to remedy the situation by opening a new medical school. The medical school, which is expected to open by 2028, will be mainly focused on training family doctors.

When asked of the projected number of students that will attend the medical school, York’s official answer was: “The York University School of Medicine will welcome 80 undergraduate and 102 postgraduate medical students at doors open, increasing to 240 undergraduate and 293 postgraduate students annually, once at full capacity.”

The university announced its plans for the medical school via a press conference on April 3, at which Premier Doug Ford was also in attendance. One of the questions raised during the conference addressed the issue of many Ontarians leaving to study medicine abroad and not returning to the province afterwards. To this, Ford explained that foreign students make up about 18 percent of current medical school students in Ontario. “In my opinion, and we will continue working with the ministry, get rid of the 18 per cent,” he said. “I want 100 per cent of Ontario students going to these universities.”

Ford’s statement was met with backlash both from NDP leader Marit Stiles, and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. Both characterized Ford’s statements as discriminatory and offensive to Ontario’s immigrant and international students trying to receive an education in the province. When asked his opinions on Ford’s comments, York Federation of Students President Ashley D’Souza says, “I think that those comments were inappropriate and really not the solution.”

The thinking behind Doug Ford’s comments is that many Ontario students leave the province seeking education elsewhere. Many students, according to Ford, leave the province to gain medical education in the Caribbean, Australia, Ireland, or France. These students then stay abroad because they’ve “met someone” and do not return. 

Some of the reasons for the current healthcare shortage can be traced back to 1990 when the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Conference of Deputy Health Ministers commissioned a report from medical economists Morris Barer and Greg Stoddart in an attempt to combat a growing recession and potential debt crisis in the province. 

According to a 2023 article in Family Medicine and Community Health, “Provincial government decisions in the 1990s, when politicians reacted to the 1991 Barer-Stoddart Report, coupled with the erroneous belief that a surplus of FPs with overly generous wages was wasting taxpayer dollars, have served to shape the current Canadian healthcare crisis.”

As the article notes, “These policies led to the curtailing of medical school seats, reduced family medicine (FM) residency positions and a dramatic increase in barriers to access for international medical graduates (IMGs) aiming to practice in Canada.”

The provincial and territorial Ministers of Health aimed to reduce the health budget via 12 policy directions, supported by the Barer-Stoddart report. Not all policies were implemented, however. The most notable policies that were implemented included reducing medical school entry class size, reducing postgraduate training positions, and reducing recruitment of graduates of foreign medical schools into Canada for postgraduate medical training. 

Many of the suggestions supported by the Barer-Stoddart report were either deferred or avoided. For example, few efforts were made to improve health care access in rural areas by increasing the number of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants.

While the decisions of the provincial government to reduce spending on the healthcare sector, limiting seating for medical schools students, and reducing incoming international students admission to medical school allowed Ontario to avoid a debt crisis decades ago, they also had ramifications for today.

York and many other institutions still rely on funding from  international students, which now make up 18 per cent of funding for both York and other institutions in Ontario.

D’Souza comments: “One of the reasons York and so many other institutions rely on International students is because the institutions are so under-funded.

“Everybody should have access to a free education and the way you get that is when the government directly invests in the post secondary education sector, which will then avoid the over reliance on any one demographic,” he adds.

York Deputy Spokesperson, Yanni Dagonas, explains: “The York University School of Medicine will attract a talented pool of applicants representing the diversity of the communities in which they will be learning. We will build on our long-standing tradition of achieving equitable student access and geographic reach to meet both student and community needs.”

About the Author

By Bradley Hoskins

Assistant News Editor


Bradley Hoskins is a writer, actor, theatre playwright, and filmmaker, who has been studying at York University for over eight years. He has been studying in both film and theatre, focusing on writing and performance. As the Assistant News Editor, he hopes to broaden his field of knowledge into the territory of journalism and reporting.


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