C/O Luis Melendez

Medical students from rural backgrounds can help resolve the inequities of the Canadian healthcare system 

While the Canada Health Act has always maintained that all Canadians should have equal access to healthcare, the unfortunate reality is that this ideal is far from the truth. Although many Canadian cities have sufficient doctors for their population, the same cannot be said for rural communities.  

Comparatively studying the doctor-per-capita ratios between urban and rural communities exposes a harsh inequity. In fact, the country’s overall value for doctor-per-capita is one in 450 while rural areas average one doctor for every 3000 residents.  

Clearly, there is a severe problem in our current healthcare system that needs to be resolved. Unfortunately, this statistic cannot be taken at face value and the snowball effect that is a result of this inequity must be studied as well. 

Due to limited access to healthcare, individuals living in rural areas are more likely to have a significant disease burden. What this means is by the time someone in a rural community can see a doctor, their disease has progressed even further leading to higher rates of chronic disease and poorer mental health.  

If you take a step back and really look at the problem, you notice that by allowing this population to go underserved, the Canadian healthcare system is essentially shooting itself in the foot. They are manifesting a sicker and more expensive population, in concordance with their healthcare needs.  

By now, I’ve hopefully illustrated the dire need for a solution. My proposition? Increase medical school admissions for students with a rural background.  

Studies have shown that when students who come from rural communities are admitted into medical schools and ultimately become physicians, they are more likely to practice in rural areas. Unsurprisingly, medical schools that have noticed and applied this phenomenon in their admissions strategies have seen benefits. 

The Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine visits undergraduate students in rural areas who have an interest in healthcare and guides them through the admissions and financial aid processes. By providing guidance to students from a rural background and linking them to residencies in rural areas, OHSU has proven successful in filling the gap. 

This is especially impactful when you consider that over 50% of medical residents in the United States end up practicing in the state they trained in.  

It’s undeniable that one possesses an innate connection to the community that they grow up in. This connection to serving rural communities is one that is best understood by students who have lived there and have the drive to give back to those exact areas.  

The medical community should look to advance the practice of culturally competent care — care that meets the cultural and social needs of diverse communities. Where better to start than the medical schools themselves?  

Other plans, such as incentivizing doctors to practice in rural areas with higher salaries have proven expensive. Rather, medical schools should commit to leveraging the passion that already exists in so many students that have a better understanding and connection with Canada’s rural areas.  

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