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UPEI Faculty Association seeks answers on medical school plans

The faculty association's two letters lay out a range of concerns around transparency, funding, and how the school — now under construction in Charlottetown — could affect P.E.I.’s health-care system.   (Kerry Campbell/CBC - image credit)
The faculty association's two letters lay out a range of concerns around transparency, funding, and how the school — now under construction in Charlottetown — could affect P.E.I.’s health-care system. (Kerry Campbell/CBC - image credit)

The union representing academic staff at UPEI has concerns about how the university is planning its new medical school, which is now under construction in Charlottetown.

UPEI's faculty association has sent two letters, one to the university's Senate, which makes decisions on academic policies, and one to the Board of Governors, which handles business and management matters.

The letters lay out a range of concerns around transparency, funding, and how the medical school — slated to open in fall 2025 — could affect P.E.I.'s health-care system.

"Our concerns are making sure that Islanders, ourselves included, still have access to quality health care — and that we can deliver the best post-secondary education that we can," said Michael Arfken, president of the UPEI Faculty Association.

"If there's evidence to support this project and suggest that it's going to be successful, we'd like to see that evidence."

One of the association's concerns, said Arfken, is that UPEI's board appears to be making financing decisions about the medical school without considering a recent consultant's report from Spindle Strategy.

Michael Arfken is the president and chief grievance officer of the UPEI Faculty Association.
Michael Arfken is the president and chief grievance officer of the UPEI Faculty Association.

The faculty association is hoping the university's Board of Governors and Senate acknowledge the importance of asking questions about how the medical school will operate, says Michael Arfken. (Ken Linton/CBC)

The report, commissioned by Health P.E.I. and UPEI and released in December, lays out in broad strokes some of the staffing and infrastructure requirements needed to support student doctors within P.E.I.'s health-care system.

The Spindle report showed that the medical school will be using significant resources "in an already overburdened system," said Arfken, adding: "It wasn't clear how that's going to work and what that's going to do to our health-care system as a whole."

Greg Keefe, interim president of UPEI. Taken Jan. 17, 2024.
Greg Keefe, interim president of UPEI. Taken Jan. 17, 2024.

The funding model for the new medical school is similar to the one for the Atlantic Veterinary College, says Greg Keefe, UPEI's interim president. (Ken Linton/CBC)

The interim president of UPEI, Greg Keefe, said the university is working on a process to identify gaps in the medical system where student doctors would need training.

"That's part of this study that we've been undertaking — to look at… requirements for having clerkships in the community, or having fourth-year students and residents in the community," said Keefe.

The results of that study will be released in the coming weeks, he said.

Virtual learning, AVC funding model

When the first students enrol in the fall of 2025, most classroom learning at the medical school will happen remotely, Keefe said, through the agreement UPEI has with the medical school at Memorial University based in St. John's.

"There's not a great deal of on-site staff required to deliver the didactic curriculum, or the in-classroom curriculum," he said, referring to courses in the first two years of med school that involve core science as opposed to live patients.

Instead, instructors located at Memorial will teach UPEI students virtually.

As for concerns the medical school might bleed money away from other UPEI operations, Keefe said the funding model for it is separate from how the rest of the university is managed — similar to how the Atlantic Veterinary College is funded.

"There is no risk of impact on any other faculties at the university," he said.

Arfken said clarification about that funding structure is important information.

"It would be good to see supporting documents for that… both now and going forward," he said.

Looking for answers 

By sending these letters, the faculty association hopes to impress upon the UPEI Board of Governors and Senate the importance of asking questions about how the school will operate, said Arfken.

"We have not seen the full Senate taking an active role in asking questions about the academic trajectory of this and the implications it has for our institution as a whole," he said.

Arfken isn't the only one seeking answers about the new medical school.

P.E.I. opposition politicians and health-care leaders have raised questions about the potential burden on the health-care system and how the university made planning decisions for the school.