Physician specialists are under-represented in communities in northern Ontario, even in larger communities of approximately 100 000 population. The positive association between postgraduate training in northern or rural areas and eventual practice in these locations has been well documented in the literature, but only for family medicine/general practice. Few, if any, studies have explored the association for other specialties. The objective of this study was to determine if there was an association between northern training and northern practice location for physicians who were enrolled in the Northeastern Ontario Postgraduate Specialty (NOPS) program, which offers placements in northeastern Ontario in specialties such as anesthesiology, internal medicine and surgery. METHODS; A national medical human resources database provided the 31 December 2006 practice location of all 50 participants in the NOPS program since its inception in 2000 until 2006. Program records provided data on participants' specialty rotations in northeastern Ontario, including number, location, and duration of rotations. Non-NOPS participants (n=50) were randomly selected for comparison, matched one for one to the NOPS group on sex, year of birth, language, medical school, year of graduation from medical school, age at the time of graduation, and specialty. Hierarchical log-linear models and 2 tests were used to assess differences between NOPS and non-NOPS participants in geographic location and population size of practice community. Chi-square tests were used to analyze the relationship between the duration of northeastern rotations and practice location of NOPS participants.
NOPS and the matched non-NOPS groups did not differ significantly for age or age at graduation from medical school (paired t-tests, p>0.80) and matched exactly for sex, medical school location and specialty group. Forty-six percent of NOPS participants were female and 80% came from Ontario residency programs. Seventy-two percent of the program participants were enrolled in medical specialties (the remainder were in surgical specialties) and this differed significantly by sex: 83% of females vs 63% of males (? (2)=4.76, df=1, p=0.03). A majority completed residency training at 31-35 years of age. Fifty percent of NOPS participants obtained medical degrees from Ontario universities, 34% from other Canadian universities and 16% from other universities. Significantly more NOPS participants than non-participants were located in northeastern Ontario (9 vs 0), significantly fewer were in other provinces (13 vs 22) and identical numbers were located in southern Ontario (28 vs 28) (=11.61, df=2, p4 weeks) than those located in southern Ontario (? (2)=7.81, df=2, p=0.02). However, a longer northeastern rotation was no guarantee of a northeastern practice location because roughly equal numbers of participants with longer rotations were spread throughout the 3 geographic practice locations. Conversely, a shorter rotation was strongly associated with a southern Ontario practice location (18/25). The NOPS participants located in communities of = 500 000 people were more likely to have shorter rotations than longer rotations, but this difference was only marginally statistically significant ? (2)=5.13, df=2, p=0.08).
The study found that specialists who participated in NOPS postgraduate specialty training in northeastern Ontario were more likely to practice in northeastern Ontario than non-participants. There was also a strong association between the duration of training in the northeast and northeastern practice and avoidance of practice in metropolitan areas. It is not clear yet whether longer northeastern rotations encourage northeastern practice or whether this reflects an existing disposition; it is clear, however, that specialists with longest specialty training rotations in the northeast were more likely to practice in the northeast. The results from this study provide the first empirical evidence of positive association between postgraduate specialty training in the northeast and eventual practice in northeastern Ontario and smaller cities.