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By Wes Brown
The provincial Liberal party has promised to give free tuition to all Ontario medical students but there is a catch.
The proposal would cover Ontario medical tuition costs in return for a graduate's promise to work in a rural area for five years, said James Ip, communications assistant to party leader Dalton McGuinty.
"There are currently 78 medically under-serviced areas in Ontario and our plan is to make an agreement so this problem is addressed," Ip said.
The Liberals are appealing to young people who can't afford rising tuition and at the same time, those communities which should have this basic service.
"If you need a doctor you should have one. The population demographically is aging and the health program currently cannot keep up with the demand," Ip said.
When asked what the Liberal party plans to do if doctors flee after their five years of service or enrolment increases too much, Ip said they would have to address these problems when and if they occurred.
"It is a voluntary program and we hope graduates establish patients and roots in the community. This is really just one idea in terms of what the Liberal party will do if elected."
Jeremy Adams, a communications assistant to Elizabeth Whitmer, the Ontario minister of health, said McGuinty hasn't even looked into the health care system.
"McGuinty is late in the game in terms of health care. McGuinty doesn't get it. There is a problem in the distribution of doctors not in the quantity of doctors," Adams said. He added there are too many doctors in Toronto and not enough in northern Ontario.
"The Ministry of Health is addressing this problem. Incentive grants, extra pay for 24-hour emergency service, as well as new rural training programs like the one at Western are all addressing the need in under-serviced areas throughout the province," Adams said.
Robert McMurtry, dean of the faculty medicine and dentistry at Western, said if the Liberals can hold true to what they are saying, then it is a very good start.
"McGuinty's ideas are very positive and now we need to work out the wrinkles. The next step I would like to see is a dialogue with medical student representatives on the proposal."
What really needs to be addressed, McMurtry said, is the long term. "Asking students to give up five years concerns me. Will there be exceptions to the rule? What will stop doctors from leaving after the five years are we back to square one?" McMurtry questioned.
Shiva Jayaraman, president of Western's medical class of 2002, said the Liberals are partially addressing the medical community and those who cannot afford an education in medicine.
"This proposal is very short-sighted. Someone who agrees to this may not be able to hold up to the agreement in terms of a definite career path," Jayaraman said.
"Dalton McGuinty has not conversed with medical students about anything yet, but at least there is dialogue going on."
He added the best way to make things better would be to bring tuition back down to lower levels.