Spotlight: NWT Family Medicine Residency Program receives the 2021-22 Premier’s Award for Excellence

Blog Post

On June 24, Premier Caroline Cochrane presented the NWT Family Medicine Residency Program with the 2021-22 Premier’s Award for Excellence for their work involving a partnership between NWT health and social services authorities and, the University of Alberta Department of Family Medicine. A residency program was created in Yellowknife to address the challenges to retention and recruitment the territory is facing with family physicians and specialists. Lead by Dr. David Pontin, the awarded team includes: Dr. Hannah Shoichet, Dr. John Chmelicek, Dr. Michelle Morros, Dr. Samantha Horvey, Debbie Meade, April Lau, and Tanis Arcuri.

With the implementation of the residency program, the objective is to use it as a recruitment and retention strategy, while actively training the next generation of physicians with the education and skills necessary to work anywhere in Canada but specifically the NWT. This program presents an approach that leads to opportunity for prospective medical residents, sustainable staffing and increased retention, partnerships between governments and stakeholders, and critical education on the importance of cultural safety in healthcare in the NWT. The vision of the medical residency program is to develop a long-term, longitudinal family medicine residency site that provides an integrated approach to practice and education with a focus on cultural competencies that will have a positive impact on physician recruitment and retention and quality of care delivered to the people of the NWT. We also know that from experience that people who spend time living and working in the NWT for extended periods of time – and get involved in the  vibrant community life and diverse cultures and experiences the territory has to offer – are more likely to want to stay here and work. This program provides that opportunity.

The development of the Yellowknife Family Medicine (YK FM) Residency Site and partnership has resulted in the creation of many exceptional qualities, including:

  • Urban, rural, and remote training opportunities.
  • First and only circumpolar training site.
  • First dedicated, year-round residency site north of 60 with a focus on serving Indigenous populations.
  • The program capitalizes on the fact that the program offers unique training experiences that cannot be found in other urban, or rural programs which helps make the program exciting and interesting for those that are looking for adventure and to broaden their experience.
  • The program is only one of 3 family residency sites in Canada that offer ‘remote’ training opportunities.
    • Residency training is a two-year program and has allocated two spots for Canadian Medical Graduates each year.  
    • The two University of Alberta medical residents train primarily in Yellowknife with some travel to Alberta, Nunavut, and Inuvik for mandatory rotations.

Becoming an established residency program at the University of Alberta, it was essential that the program had the tools for learner assessment, learner support, research, faculty development, and academic programming. Ensuring the incorporation of traditional knowledge was at the centre of the program, collaborative efforts were made with medical educators from the NWT and the University of Alberta, as well as outreach to include input from NWT communities. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, aided in the guiding the development to provide medical education and cultural safety in the NWT. Developing the program also involved multiple stakeholders including: NWT HSS Leadership Council, Communities, Indigenous Advisory Committee, Indigenous Health & Wellness Group, and the Department of Health and Social Services Community, Culture, Innovation division.

The program has already seen great success in its inaugural years as there has been improved access to services, increase medical care provided across the NWT, increased opportunities for local physicians, and increased interest of recruitment for medical students looking to pursue a residency and become a physician in the North.