President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton discusses plans for new School of Medicine at York

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With the support of regional government and healthcare sector leaders, York University is advancing plans to establish a new School of Medicine that will serve the evolving needs of Ontario’s public healthcare system and provide the next generation of physicians with an innovative new model for medical education.

YFile spoke with York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton about the vision for York’s School of Medicine and how it could drive positive change in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) by creating healthier and more equitable communities.

York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton
York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton

Q: Why are new medical schools needed in the GTA?

A: We need new medical schools in the region to build healthcare capacity, address existing health inequities, and prepare the next generation of physicians to meet the evolving demands of Ontario’s public healthcare system. As the population of the GTA continues to grow and demographics continue to shift — with seniors making up an increasing proportion of the population — the capacity of the healthcare system will continue to be strained, and more medical professionals will be required to meet this demand. Additionally, more supports will be needed to address the inequities in our healthcare system, which have been both exposed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As public health demands continue to change, the methods we use to educate physicians will also need to evolve. Medical school curricula will need to be adapted to continue to provide students with modern education that is responsive to community needs, including by incorporating greater use of technology, emphasizing preventive medicine, and offering community-based and inter-professional learning opportunities, among other priorities. New medical schools such as the one we are proposing could help take the lead in addressing the structural changes that are necessary in the system. 

Q: What makes York the ideal institution for a new School of Medicine?

A: York’s interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning, wide breadth of academic programming, and longstanding reputation for research excellence provide a strong foundation for a new medical school. York’s Faculty of Health already enhances health equity, healthcare, and well-being by engaging in innovative teaching and cutting-edge research and establishing international partnerships that help improve health outcomes both locally and globally. In addition to housing one of Canada’s largest Nursing and Nurse Practitioner programs, the Faculty offers bachelor and graduate programs in psychology, neuroscience, kinesiology and health sciences, global health, health studies, health policy and management, health informatics, and critical disability studies. This range of programs informs an integrated understanding of healthcare and well-being that extends beyond the traditional acute medical care education delivered by many other traditional university programs.

Beyond the Faculty of Health, York has relevant program strengths in data science, social work, engineering for health technologies, and disaster and emergency management. In addition, the Schulich School of Business offers master’s level programming in health industries management, business analytics, and management of AI.

As a leading research institution, York is also home to centres of research excellence in global health, healthy aging, disease modelling, muscle health, antimicrobial resistance, data visualization, and advanced robotics, among others. Our Centre for Vision Research is world renowned, with a focus on both human and computer vision, and a large network of global health partners. And our IP Osgoode program provides thought leadership on the ownership, use and governance of data, including personal health data. These strengths in basic and applied health research are fuelling successful innovation and commercialization partnerships with industry and government.

Q: What is the vision for York’s School of Medicine?

A: York’s vision for the new School of Medicine is based on a unique model that would both improve access to healthcare for Ontarians and provide a high-quality, modern medical education for students. York’s School of Medicine would focus on training family and community doctors in an integrated setting with other healthcare practitioners and offer a unique curriculum that specifically addresses the social and environmental factors affecting health.

Specifically, York’s vision for the school is organized around three pillars: improving the health and well-being of individuals, communities and populations by focusing on the social determinants of health; improving the healthcare system — its performance, efficiency, effectiveness and integration — through an interdisciplinary and inter-professional model; and enhancing illness prevention, assessment, diagnostics, treatment care, and rehabilitation.

Q: How would York’s new School of Medicine promote healthy communities in the GTA and improve the health and well-being of Ontarians?

A: With its focus on training family and community doctors, York’s School of Medicine will both increase healthcare capacity in Ontario and improve access to high-quality healthcare for Ontarians, particularly those in underserved communities and the more than one million residents who are currently without primary care.

And its model of promoting care beyond the walls of hospital facilities will result in cost savings and efficiencies in service delivery. This will allow Ontarians to access a greater number of medical services outside of a hospital setting, which will be particularly beneficial for seniors, as it will enable them to live longer, healthier lives at home. Additionally, the school’s commitment to interdisciplinary practice and curricular focus on the social determinants of health will result in greater health equity for diverse communities like York Region, as it will directly address the social and environmental factors affecting health in under-resourced and underserved communities.

Q: How is York University already working with local partners to advance healthcare in the GTA?

A: York University already has strong partnerships with healthcare providers in the region. Recently, we launched an innovative collaboration with Mackenzie Health that aims to enhance health services, research and innovation, and health outcomes for York Region residents through a new Memorandum of Understanding.

In addition, in 2019, we strengthened ties with the City of Vaughan to collaborate on a new Healthcare Centre Precinct, which allows for a York campus focused on training the future health workforce in York Region. This first-of-its-kind initiative in Canada will identify transformational opportunities to maximize the best use of lands surrounding the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, providing York with an opportunity to facilitate our expansion plans in health and healthcare.

Regional government and healthcare sector leaders have already been voicing strong support for our vision for a new School of Medicine, and we look forward to continuing to work together with these partners and others to create a new model for health care that will better serve the current and future public health needs of the GTA and the country.