York University’s innovative medical school set to open in 2028

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Michael Lewis

Special to Ontario Construction Report

Design and planning for York University’s “first-of-a-kind” medical school at the Vaughan Healthcare Centre Precinct just north of Toronto is one step closer after Premier Doug Ford announced that the school will open its doors to the first cohort of future doctors in 2028.

The announcement in April came on the heels of an initial start up investment of $9 million in the 2024 provincial budget to fund preliminary design work which York says will accelerate the pace to a new medical education facility in what it calls the fastest growing region in Ontario.

A spokesperson did not comment on when the tendering process for the project will commence and if work will be awarded to enterprises that specialize in medical facility design and construction. It’s also not known if construction delivery is expected through design-build contracts combining the work of designers and architects along with contractors and subcontractors.

“We aren’t at that stage of planning yet,” said York spokesperson Barbara Joy.

The School of Medicine will be the first in Canada focused on training primary care doctors, Ontario Minister of Health Sylvia Jones said in a statement. “Our government is taking historic action to grow our health care workforce by launching the largest expansion of Ontario’s medical education system in over a decade.”

Based at the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, the York University School of Medicine will devote approximately 70 per cent of postgraduate training seats to primary care. Once operating at full capacity, the school will have 240 undergraduate spots and 293 postgraduate seats.

The Toronto-based university said the school will train primary care physicians to leverage the most recent digital health technologies and to collaborate with health-care teams at diverse learning sites. ​

The university says it has been working toward a vision to expand health and health-related programs in multiple faculties. To enhance access and the diversity of students in health fields, the university also intends to offer a two-year bridging pathway for students who may not have considered a career in medicine or health.​

The Ontario College of Family Physicians in 2023 said 2.3 million Ontario residents are without a family doctor with the number forecast to increase to 4.4 million by 2026. It said there are 108 vacant medicine spots for residency placements, including 11 at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Sudbury.

“It is clear that millions more Ontarians will go without a family doctor unless immediate changes are made to provide supports for family doctors,” said Ontario College of Family Physicians president Dr. Mekalai Kumanan.

The province in April 2023 announced that Toronto Metropolitan University would establish a new medical school in Brampton set to open next year to add 260 undergraduate and 449 postgraduate seats over the next five years.

The province also plans to link 600,000 people to primary care teams. composed of health professionals including doctors, nurse practitioners, registered and practical nurses, as well as physiotherapists and social workers.

York University president Rhonda Lenton said the university has been planning the medical school for the past decade, with the university adding in a statement that Vaughan has agreed to transfer land to York to build the school beside Mackenzie Health’s Vaughan Hospital.

In addition to leveraging the health and technology programs that exist at York in designing and delivering the curriculum of the School of Medicine, the school will leverage infrastructure at the Keele Campus, and which is currently under construction at the Markham Campus, York said.

“By leveraging the extensive teaching, laboratory, administrative and other support infrastructure (including student housing) that currently exists, any incremental capital investment can be minimized to focus on building only what is needed.”

According to Scott Kelsey, managing principal at Los Angeles-based CO Architects, a firm that specializes in healthcare, academic, and science and technology architecture, evolving demands of medical education mean medical schools require buildings and layouts that facilitate multidisciplinary instruction of small groups.

He says medical schools now require architecture to improve not only the academic, but also the social experience, in part to boost student retention rates. “This requirement translates into spaces for spontaneous, informal social and academic interaction.”

York, meanwhile, said its approval of a new strategy for its Keele Campus creates an opportunity to advance teaching and research through the development of university lands in the coming decades.

York plans to create an “innovation district” that it says will include public and private sector collaboration on innovation, research and commercialization.

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