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  • Victoria Jackson

Medical School - CBU needs your support to be part of the Healthcare Solution

With a rise in Nova Scotia’s population and the waitlist for a family doctor recording over 116,000 Nova Scotians, the need for more family doctors has become a crisis. Cape Breton University is looking to set up a medical campus, to be part of the solution to this problem.

The goal of this campus would be to increase the accessibility to doctors in rural areas of Nova Scotia. CBU argues if doctors are taught and trained in rural areas, there will be a better retention of doctors. As Gordon MacInnis, CBU’s Vice-president of Finance and Operations, states “The literature says students who are trained in a rural community are much more likely to settle in a rural community.”

CBU has also partnered with Dalhousie Medical School to offer five medical seats to students from rural Nova Scotia, who would practice family medicine in a rural community after graduating. VP MacInnis noted there was no trouble in filling these seats, and the idea behind this collaboration was to see if students from rural communities would enroll in medical school for family medicine with the commitment to practice in a rural community if given the opportunity.

CBU’s Plans

Logistics and location are one major aspect that CBU needs to sort out prior to the start of the project. A partner school with an established medical school is another. CBU has been in talks with several universities, including Dalhousie. However, it is certain the focus will be on family medicine, in rural communities looking at no less than 20 available seats according to Mr. MacInnis. Additionally, CBU will likely require new infrastructure for the medical school and has plans for a campus planner to come in soon to help with the decision on where such a building would be built.

Another way Cape Breton proposes a medical school would help support the community is with a collaborative medical clinic which will be able to serve 10,000 patients from the community. This clinic would help to relieve the stress in emergency rooms and give students in nursing and their final year of medical school excellent experience.

This clinic will help CBU foster relationships between students studying health care related fields. VP MacInnis states that the goal will be to create these “clusters,” so students learn in collaborative environments as they will be working in such environments. CBU’s current research into how to help people age in a healthier manner thereby reducing dependance on the healthcare system will also be included in this medical clinic as VP. MacInnis notes, “Our goal is to bring research to the community.”

How this clinic would affect the Nancy Dingwall Health and Counselling Centre is unknown, but Judy Kelley, a member of the medical school committee, director of the Nancy Dingwall Health and Counselling Centre and a registered nurse, states she will ensure students are able to receive the healthcare they need in a timely manner no matter what the model looks like.

Why Now and Why CBU

VP MacInnis emphasized that the time is right for a CBU Medical school as the “physician community is generally older” in the rural areas and will be retiring soon. Additionally, a new medical school will take “seven plus years” before the first batch of graduating doctors are available, and hence there is a need to “start sooner rather than later.”

As the goal is to increase the number of those practicing family medicine in a rural area, having medical seats set up outside of Halifax in a rural area would be the logical decision. However, this area would also need a suitable hospital for students, and Cape Breton happens to be the best place in Nova Scotia according to VP MacInnis.

Judy Kelley also highlights Cape Bretoners are community and family-oriented people which make moving away from Cape Breton for school stressful. Additionally, she notes there is a whole host of people who would do well in medicine and be excellent physicians” in Cape Breton if they had the opportunity to study medicine in Cape Breton.

Importance of Community Support

“You need the support of your local community." This is a particularly important aspect in realizing the dream of a medical campus at CBU, as President Dingwall stated in an interview with CBC Information Morning Cape Breton. Judy Kelley states that she has seen “overwhelming support” for a CBU medical school within the community.

There have been several doctors who have come forward to support this proposal. Dr. Kevin Orrell, an orthopedic surgeon and physician, has given his support by becoming a special advisor to Dingwall. Other doctors such as Dr Yvonne Libbus and Dr. Ron MacCormick have shown their support by submitting testimonials which can be found here. These doctors outline the benefits this school; in retaining doctors and help these new physicians be better equipped to help the community of Cape Breton.

However, the project is not devoid of critics. A few doctors have raised concerns around the province’s ability to handle more medical students given that doctors are already short on time and the medical school alone cannot solve the doctor shortage. Kelley states that “there will be growing pains and there will be things we [CBU] need to learn.” and VP MacInnis stated a CBU medical school is “not the entire solution, but we believe it is part of the solution.” MacInnis also told the Caper Times that CBU has been working extensively with the physician community to investigate additional ways the government can improve Nova Scotians’ access to family doctors.

It may seem trivial to show your support for a CBU medical school, however it is “critical”, according to MacInnis, for CBU getting government approval, which is needed for funding and other aspects of the project. Additionally, community support behind CBU’s proposal demonstrates it is not just the University who believes that a medical school at CBU is part of the solution to the exiting physician shortages, but also the community. Take a moment to consider if you support a CBU medical school, and if you do you can show your support here.


Kelley, Judy. Interview. Conducted by Victoria Jackson. 21 November 2022.

MacInnis, Gordon. Interview. Conducted by Levin Alex. 25 November 2022

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