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Impact of Program Closures at Laurentian University on Health Care and Medical Physics Education

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The Canadian Organization of Medical Physicists (COMP) deplores the degree program closures that are to be part of Laurentian University’s restructuring.  In particular, the closing of the Physics Department will have severe consequences on important health care professions active in cancer care as a result of a reduction of options in the training of radiation therapists and medical physicists in the region, nationally and globally.

Laurentian University partners with the Michener Institute of Toronto’s University Health Network to offer an Honours Baccalaureate Degree in Radiation Therapy.  This is the only radiation therapy education program outside of Toronto in the Province.   We see an important need for skilled personnel in this area who are from Northern Ontario and serve the area directly, by developing their careers at Laurentian.  Without the Laurentian-Michener partnership, an unintended consequence of Laurentian’s restructuring will be that the only route to enter the profession will be via studying in Toronto, which presents many barriers to northerners, and many of those who do go that route will not return to Northern Ontario.  At this time, there are 44 students in this program.

A further unintended consequence will follow from the closure of the suite of degree programs offered in Physics.  These programs lead to careers in industry, health care, government, or to further studies.  There are several medical physicists in Canada who had their start with an undergraduate or graduate degree in Physics from Laurentian.  The demise of these programs means that there will be no option for a university specialization in Physics between Thunder Bay and Ottawa.  With its mandate to welcome francophone and indigenous students, especially from Northern Ontario, and the need to boost Canada’s weight in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), this is a major loss with enormous future opportunity cost. Our organization is deeply concerned about the expected impact on cancer care in the region.  As in other remote regions in Canada, it will become more difficult to recruit skilled professionals back to Northern Ontario if local training options are decimated.

COMP is also alarmed about the loss of research capabilities by the faculty of the Physics Department at Laurentian who along with other collaborators contributed to the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2015 for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which showed that neutrinos have mass. It is not hyperbole to state that this discovery at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory was a monumental achievement in Physics that was celebrated provincially, nationally and internationally.

Finally, COMP is particularly disturbed about the short timeline associated with this restructuring.  Such an expedited process precludes solicitation of ideas and opinions from faculty, staff, students, and the community as well as other stakeholders including our membership.  This egregious action has resulted in student’s future plans suddenly thrown into disarray which adds significant uncertainty to their lives already complicated by the ongoing pandemic. As such, it does not appear that the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act is an appropriate vehicle for the restructuring of a public university in Canada.

We call on the provincial government to immediately and urgently intervene in this emergency to ensure that Laurentian’s restructuring meets the needs of its students, employees, Northern Ontario and Canada as a whole.  

Published on April 20, 2021

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