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October 8, 2019

Northern Routes

Inspiring people, leaders and students: Hearing the truth first-hand

Travels this week led me to several Northern communities. In Espanola, I met with Nicole Haley, CEO of Espanola Regional Hospital and Health Centre and Drs. Andre Michon and Kim Perlin.  Kim is a NOSM grad and Andre is a grad of NOSM’s predecessor, the Northeastern Ontario Medical Education Corporation (NOMEC). Both stayed in the North, practice comprehensive medicine and have successfully recruited other NOSM grads with their creative and strong team approach.

The same day we visited the North Shore Health Network in Blind River, where I met with Ralph Barker, President and CEO and his team. Their organization is a true collaboration between three health services sites, working together as an integrated rural health service and demonstrating the future of health care across the province

We then made our way to Sault Ste. Marie for a wonderful meet and greet at the Outspoken Brewery. Like the pub night we hosted the prior evening at Spacecraft in Sudbury, it was such fun. I met many students who provided me with their frank feedback about NOSM. They are very positive about their experiences. Talking to students and residents, has proven to validate that NOSM is doing a good job, but there are areas that need attention. I’ve made notes of these items and will address them in NOSM’s continuous quality improvement process.

The next day, I had meetings with the CEO of Sault Area Hospital (SAH) Wendy Hansson and her leadership team. It was special for me to meet many of our preceptors such as Drs. Ed Hirvi and Silvana Spadafora, who give so much to our School. The SAH is a valued partner in our work and NOSM’s students love all their experiences there.


We spent the afternoon at Algoma University meeting with Asima Vezina, President and Vice-Chancellor, and her academic team. We heard about plans to develop a strategy to address mental health, addictions and PTSD that are legacies of the The Shingwauk Project – a vast collection of documents and photographs chronicling the experiences at residential schools. We were moved by the stories of the children who were taken from their homes and subjected to terrible abuses in residential schools during our tour of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

We travelled to Batchewana First Nation to meet with three health authorities and tour Batchewana Health Services. There I met with Teala Nadjiwon, Director of Human Services, Maxine Lesage, Executive Director of Baawaating Family Health Team. Some of our NOSM grads such as Dr. Norma Bolduc practice there and have made a huge impact.

I was pleased to host a community reception in the Soo. Attended by a huge crowd, I met Board Members Gary Boissoneau and George Payne, NOSM Elder Peter Jones, and the Bring a Doc Home fundraising committee’s leads Jessica Buffone, Frank DeMarco and Gannon Vaughan. The Bring a Doc Home initiative has raised nearly $400,000 to support NOSM student bursaries. What a fantastic group!

The following day we visited the Group Health Centre and spent time with Drs. Krzysztof Opryszczko, Jodi Steward and Ed Hirvi (he wears many hats) and saw the incredible investment they made in the Clinical Learning Centre.

We concluded this set of community visits in Wawa. The drive was awesome – autumn in its glory shone all around. There I had meetings with Dr. Anjali Oberai, NOSM Assistant Professor and Family Medicine Section Co-Chair and Chief of Staff at Lady Dunn Health Centre, and her colleagues Drs. Mike Cotterill, Chris Stamler and Dannica Switzer who make up a group of enthusiastic doctors who support each other in a remarkable way. On the tour of their hospital, I learned about virtual critical care—technology enabled access to health care that must be integrated into our MD program as we renew our curriculum. Finally, Kadean Ogilvie-Pinter, CEO, offered more interesting perspectives on social accountability.

Thanks to Lise Lalonde and Judy Bentham for their organization of these visits and to Drs. Cervin and Ross for accompanying me for most of the trip.

NOSM faculty are making national headlines for their work in social accountability. We have exceptional leaders in our midst who are teaching and positively influencing our students.

This month, Dr. Naana Jumah captured national media attention with the launch of an Indigenous women’s health curriculum that educates doctors the biases that Indigenous women may experience when seeking health care. In partnership with Dr. Lisa Richardson, a strategic advisor in Indigenous Health at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, they led a research team of mostly Indigenous women who developed the curriculum with feedback from 11 Indigenous women’s organizations from across Canada.

And, Dr. Lloyd Douglas, an alumnus of NOSM’s Public Health and Preventive Medicine residency program, won the national Dr. Ian Bowmer Award for Social Accountability from the Medical Council of Canada. Dr. Douglas came to Canada from Jamaica as an international medical graduate and intentionally relocated his family to Sioux Lookout to with First Nations communities. “I go where I’m needed,” he said. Inspired yet?

Consider the strength of Dr. Lorrilee McGregor, who worked with a team of NOSM staff to organize the Orange Shirt Day Speaker Series with a focus on the truth telling that comes from the survivors sharing their stories. Dr. McGregor shared her own perspective on living with the direct impact of intergenerational effects of residential schools. We heard from Celeste Pedri-Spade about repatriating Indigenous children’s artwork. And we heard from residential school survivors Marion McGregor and Helen Cromarty. I was humbled and honoured by their bravery, grace and resilience. Listening to their truths is an act of social accountability in which all NOSM community members should participate.

I must also highlight Dr. Alex Moise, who has been appointed a member of the Genes, Cells and Molecules Evaluations Group for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). He will contribute to the national peer review process that ensures the efficacy, health and vitality of Canada’s research community.

Well done to all of you who continue to go above and beyond, exemplifying NOSM’s social accountability mandate through your action.

Drs. Alex Anawati, Rob Lepage and Laura Piccinin, NOSM faculty members working in the ER at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, are seeing about 50 overdoses a month. The opioid crisis hits harder in Northern Ontario than anywhere else in the province. With funding from Health Canada, NOSM has developed a program to make opioid prescribing and tapering safer and easier to manage. In the coming months, more information will be shared about faculty learning opportunities.

More to come

As I prepare for my next trip to Dryden, I’m reminded of the vast geography that separates us only physically. It is the sense of community and our connectedness that drives our vision forward. Three months into this job, I feel honoured and privileged to be meeting so many passionate health leaders and teachers in the North.

If we don’t have the opportunity to meet while I’m in your neck of the woods, I’m still interested in hearing from you. If you want to share your thoughts about what NOSM’s next strategic plan should entail, I’m all ears. Please send me an email at

Please continue to follow my journey on Twitter @ddsv3 using #WhereisDrVerma.


The Word