Sean Sullivan/the Gauntlet

Faculty of medicine dean speaks out about budget cuts

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The recent 7.3 per cent provincial budget cuts for Albertan post secondary-education have received a lot of media attention. However, cuts in the University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine have drawn comparatively few comments. The U of C faculty of medicine dean Jon Meddings recently spoke out about the cuts to his faculty, explaining his concerns regarding the unnecessary risks they pose to Alberta’s future health-care system.

The university’s faculty of medicine is currently dealing with a $13-million cut from the Alberta Heritage Foundation and a $10-million cut from the Academic Alternate Relationship Plan, all of which were imposed prior to the budget cuts from the provincial government earlier this year. The faculty will also lose $2 million in provincial funding, resulting in the loss of 15 admission spots for medical students. This was announced to the public on May 15 with the rest of the U of C’s budget cuts. 

Meddings said this series of budget cuts over the last three years put the faculty of medicine in a vulnerable position, even prior to the 7.3 per cent post-secondary cut announced earlier this year.

“There are four sources of funding that have been cut. The budget [this year] is the one everybody focuses on. If the other [financial cuts] hadn’t happened, this would have just been a blip on the radar,” said Meddings. “The provincial budget cut is just under $2 million, so it’s actually peanuts, but all of that together causes us to make some major changes because we cannot manage with that.”

In response to these budget cuts, the faculty of medicine plans to drop 50 people from its medical research team within the next four years. Meddings said the drop won’t have an immediate effect on Alberta’s health-care system, but the province could suffer from this decision within 10 years. 

Meddings described Calgary’s stroke care as an example of small investments having a big impact on public health.

“The reason that we have exceptional stroke care in Calgary isn’t because we have an amazing health-care system. The reason it is superb here and not Red Deer, which has the same health-care system, is that the Alberta Heritage Foundation recruited a group of six stroke specialists in the 1990s who were researchers here,” said Meddings. “Our great stroke care is due to the fact that we invested in the ‘90s in medical research and studied stroke. We’re going to have to do things like that [at the U of C] with 50 fewer people now, so it won’t have an effect today, but in 10 years, we’ll suffer because of that.”

There are talks about bringing in international and out-of-province students to fill up the 15 medical spots that were going to be cut. These students pay more for tuition, making them more affordable to the faculty of medicine when they are receiving less in provincial funding.

The total cost to put a student through medical school is $95,000.

Meddings said out-of-province students are being considered to fill these 15 spots, with special interest in students from the Northwest Territories and the United States. 

“The one that had the most appeal and we’ve talked about the most was to take Americans in and then send them back to the U.S.A. after they’d finished their training,” said Meddings. 

Even though the prospect of bringing in students from the U.S.A. would be beneficial to the medical school, Meddings said that the idea would be politically unpopular, as the university would not be training people that want to work in Alberta or in rural family practices. 

The faculty has not reached any conclusions yet as to whether they will recruit medical students from out of province. 

Meddings said, however, that the budget cuts will not be an issue for the province as long as they are eventually replaced. 

“I think in the big picture, it’s more than the medical students. The big picture is that in Alberta if you want to have an economy that’s not just resource-based anymore and that is a knowledge-based economy, what you need is an educated population,” said Meddings. “So, cutting the one system that educates your population, the post secondary system, does not make a lot of sense to me.” 

Students’ Union faculty of medicine representative Jay Wang acknowledged the effect the financial cuts will have on the school’s medical program. 

“The faculty of medicine is quite complicated, the funding does not only come from the university and the government,” said Wang. “There are many sources of funds and if all of them are being cut to some certain degree, it will be challenging for the faculty.”

Wang added that present students will not see an immediate effect from cuts, however, he believes they will affect the school farther down the line.