The University of Manitoba’s largest class of medical students were cloaked in fresh white coats this week as part of a time-honoured welcoming ceremony, and some students say their end goal is to combat the province’s ongoing physician shortage.
The university embraced 125 new medical students on Wednesday, after a recent enrolment increase from 110. The students gathered to receive words of encouragement from Manitoba physicians such as Dr. Joss Reimer, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s chief medical officer.
“I want you to capture this moment, because while being a physician is an incredibly rewarding career, you have also taken a difficult path,” Reimer told the students in her address, adding that she also once sat in the same seats as them.
“And even when the road gets hard, I want you to remember that you belong here.”
The Manitoba government has made recent steps to address the province’s current doctor shortage, hiring a recruitment firm last July to attract 150 more physicians, with 50 each for Winnipeg, northern Manitoba and rural communities.
A 2022 report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that Manitoba has 217 physicians per 100,000 residents — the third-lowest rate in the country, ahead of only Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island.
Kiana Tait says a shortage of Indigenous physicians is even more evident in the province. The 23-year-old member of Norway House Cree Nation is one of ten Indigenous students among the class of 2027.
“I’m just hoping that with the medical class expanding, and more representation, that it encourages others to pursue medicine,” she told CBC News at the ceremony.
Tait decided to pursue medicine at a young age and plans to practice medicine in her home community and other rural First Nations in northern Manitoba after graduation.
She also hopes to increase the representation of Indigenous physicians who grew up on reserve, saying she didn’t see many First Nations people like her in the medical field when she was younger.
“Knowing what my grandparents [and ancestors] went through, I just knew that I had a role and a responsibility in my family and my community to do something, and I decided that medicine was my chosen path.,” she said.
“I hope being here, getting my white coat, inspires others to do the same.”
New students reflect Manitoba’s diversity: university
The university says the college of medicine’s class of 2027 is richly diverse, including 53 of a visible minority, 59 with rural connections and two who identify as non-binary.
Jeannette Comte, 22, grew up on a farm near the Francophone community of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, which is 109 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.
The community has a good hospital, which made her want to pursue medicine. She wants to return to Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes after earning her medical degree in the college’s bilingual stream.
“I have very deep rural roots, and we know there is a physician shortage in rural areas,” she said.
“I also want to aid and represent the Francophone community in health care.”
Comte felt a mix of excitement and nervousness for Wednesday’s welcoming ceremony, but said afterwards that the event made her hopeful for her next four years in medical school.
“Hopefully, I will be able to go back and help out my rural community and other similar rural communities as a physician.”
WATCH | U of M welcomes 125 new medical students: