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Evaluation of the impact of the Northern Medical Program : perceptions of community leaders Toomey, Patricia C.

Abstract

Background. Access to health care in northern and rural communities has been an ongoing challenge. Training undergraduate medical students in regional sites is one strategy to enhance physician recruitment and retention in rural regions. With this goal in mind, in 2004, the Northern Medical Program was created to bring undergraduate medical education to Prince George. The NMP is also hypothesized to have wider impacts on the community. This study aimed to describe perceptions of the broader impacts of the NMP. Methods. In this qualitative study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with community leaders in various sectors of Prince George. The interviewer probed about perceived current and anticipated future impacts of the program, both positive and negative. A descriptive content analysis was performed. A conceptual framework of hypothesized impacts was created based on the literature and a model of neighbourhood social capital by Carpiano (2006). Findings. Comments were overwhelmingly positive. Impacts were described on education, health services, economy, politics, and media. Some reported negative impacts included tension between the NMP and other departments at UNBC, and a strain on health system resource capacity. Participants also reported that the NMP has impacted social capital in the region. Social capital, defined as the resources belonging to a network of individuals, was a pervasive theme. Impacts on social cohesion, various forms of social capital, access to social capital and outcomes of social capital are described. Conclusions. The full impact of the NMP will likely not be felt for at least a decade, as the program is still relatively new to Prince George. Findings suggest that an undergraduate medical education program can have pervasive impacts in an underserved community. Evaluation of the impact of such programs should be broad in scope. Findings also suggest that impacts of the program on other community sectors and on social capital may in fact lead to greater human capital gains than originally anticipated. A comprehensive communication strategy should be developed and maintained to ensure continued stakeholder support for the program. Next steps include identifying key quantifiable indicators of community impact to track changes in the community over time.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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