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UPEI Faculty Association wants seat at the table for medical school discussion

Construction on the medical school building is underway and the goal is to open in 2025.   (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC - image credit)
Construction on the medical school building is underway and the goal is to open in 2025. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC - image credit)

The University of Prince Edward Island Faculty Association is again raising concerns about a medical school on P.E.I.

"The stakes here are very, very high," UPEIFA executive director Margot Rejskind told the standing committee on health and social development Wednesday.

"The consequences of getting this wrong are significant. And the costs of getting this wrong are not only financial; this will affect the lives of Islanders."

The UPEI medical school has been a controversial topic in the province after plans were announced in 2021 that called for the project in partnership with Memorial University's Faculty of Medicine to open in 2023.

Back then, the premier said it would help increase the number of physicians on the Island, at a time when P.E.I.'s registry of patients without family doctors contained nearly 20,000 names.

Premier Dennis King noted that future doctors tend to stay in the areas where they are trained.

UPEI legislative committee
UPEI legislative committee

Margot Rejskind and Michael Arfken speak at a legislative committee on Wednesday. (Gabrielle Drumond/Radio-Canada)

As of Jan. 15 of this year, the number of people on the patient registry had soared to 36,000. Some medical professionals have been questioning whether P.E.I.'s fragile health-care system can handle a medical school at all.

Fast forward to Wednesday and the faculty association's appearance in front of MLAs, with construction on the building well underway and plans calling for the first students to start classes in 2025.

"We have been invited before this standing committee to share the UPEI Faculty Association's perspective on the UPEI Medical School, including any potential challenges with the current plan," said UPEIFA President Michael Arfken.

"To be perfectly honest, I find it difficult to describe what has transpired so far as resembling a plan."

Both Arfken and Rejskind said they are not against a medical school at UPEI; they think it could be successful if it's done correctly. But they said the association has been left in the dark during the planning process.

Michael Arfken
Michael Arfken

Michael Arfken, president of the UPEI Faculty Association, says they want to know more about the plans for the medical school. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC)

"In this case, we really have almost no information, and that makes it hard to even start to consider what the impacts could be," said Rejskind.

"If we're going to do it, and we clearly are, it's worth taking the time to do right."

Regular updates provided, says UPEI

In a statement to CBC News, UPEI said it "recognizes the importance of clear and timely communication and has provided regular updates about the development of the faculty of medicine to our faculty, staff, and students."

Still, the PEIFA said it has questions that haven't been answered.

For example, the union says it still doesn't know the financial plan, how the new faculty of medicine will work, or what type of impact this will have on current academic staff members.

This is something that's gonna cost an awful lot of money for our Island with hopefully great results at the end. — MLA Gord McNeilly

"The really big set of questions is about, you know, what does this do to the rest of us?" said Rejskind.

"The university is facing a number of serious challenges and to be putting this really big project on top of it, even in the best of times, would be a heavy lift."

'Big project, this is'

MLA Gord McNeilly said he was a little surprised to hear about the current situation.

"Big project, this is. This is something that's gonna cost an awful lot of money for our Island — with hopefully great results at the end," he said.

"But the plan has not been portrayed, I think, like we needed it to be to this point, and that's what the faculty association said here today."

Moving forward, Arfken said the association wants to be a part of the discussions and ensure they not only have a seat at the table, but are also being heard.

"There's just a lot of missing information that we're hoping to get," he said.

"What is the plan? Share that with us, seek input from us and show that that input is being taken seriously and integrated into these plans."