A new medical school B.C. has been promising for Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus since the 2020 election is receiving a fresh financial injection and a new start date.
Premier David Eby made the announcement Monday (Nov. 28) at SFU Surrey, saying up to $4.9-million in a new startup investment will mean the school can likely start welcoming students by 2026. The province had previously stated it would open in 2023-24.
“While we have made enormous progress to strengthen public health care over the past five years, we know that many British Columbians are struggling to find a family doctor and waiting too long for care on a waiting list or in an emergency room,” said Eby.
“That’s why are taking action to train, recruit and retain family doctors now - and taking these steps with Simon Fraser University to train the health workforce we’ll need in the future. This investment in the first entirely new medical school in western Canada in 55 years will mean more family doctors graduating each year to provide care for people.”
The province is investing as much as $4.9 million in startup funding to support accreditation, curriculum planning, engagement, space planning and professional staff to support the SFU medical school project office.
The new investment builds on $1.5 million provided to the university earlier this year by the province to support the development of the business case. A project board has been established to oversee this work.
“SFU is excited about the progress we’re making with the province, health authorities, and Indigenous partners towards a new medical school,” says SFU President Joy Johnson. “With today’s announcement, we’ve hit another important milestone on that journey. The new medical school will serve everyone in B.C. – particularly underserved populations – training the next generation of doctors in communities throughout the province.”
“Just as the UBC medical school is all over British Columbia, so you’ll see centres of this new medical school in hospitals throughout Faser Health and working with the First Nations Health Authority and with local divisions of family practice,” Minister of Health Adrian Dix said in October 2020 during the campaign, adding it would be “complementary” to UBC’s medical school, but it “won’t be as big as the UBC medical school; it doesn’t need to be.”
Meanwhile, SFU has retained an interim dean, Dr. Roger Strasser, who will provide strategic leadership in the planning and implementation of the medical school.
Strasser was the founding dean and CEO of the Northern Ontario school of medicine and is a recognized leader in the development of health professional education.
“With this new medical school, the Province of B.C. is demonstrating its commitment to a strong public health-care system that meets the needs of its diverse and growing population,” said Dr. Strasser. “I am extremely excited to have this opportunity to join SFU to help deliver on that vision.”
The Surrey Board of Trade was quick to applaud Monday’s announcement.
“This is a medium to long term solution to address the doctor shortage, and with the November 27th announcement to ensure that our newcomers, who have medical training, can fully participate in the health care industry, this goes a long way to helping to address some solutions to the health care crisis,” said Anita Huberman, President and CEO, Surrey Board of Trade.
“Education is one of the foundations to driving the economy, and through SFU Surrey’s new medical school, Surrey will be an ecosystem of talent in the health care industry combined with the health care technology innovation at Surrey’s Health and Technology District.”
A roadblock that the province must address, added Huberman, is that there are very few doctors willing to mentor immigrants that practiced as doctors in their home country, after they pass their medical professional tests and become licensed as fourth-year residency students.
“We also need nurses and other health-care professionals,” she said. “Private education colleges can also be a part of the training ecosystem to help alleviate the backlog of students waiting to enter these fields.”
Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training, says Surrey’s new medical school is sorely needed.
“I am excited to be part of the establishment of a second medical school, which is a huge step toward developing the infrastructure needed to train more doctors, so all British Columbians can access the care they need,” said Kang. “The development of the Simon Fraser University medical school will help meet the growing demand for physicians in B.C. over the longer term and train the next generation of doctors.”