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CBU officials say new medical school is on track to open in fall 2025

The Government of Nova Scotia is investing tens of million of dollars to develop the new medical campus at CBU. (Cape Breton University - image credit)
The Government of Nova Scotia is investing tens of million of dollars to develop the new medical campus at CBU. (Cape Breton University - image credit)

Preparations to set up a new medical school at Cape Breton University are well underway, and officials are confident they will meet the deadline to welcome the first cohort of students in the fall of 2025.

CBU has signed a memorandum of understanding with Dalhousie University to work together on establishing the new medical school. It says the goal is for CBU to operate the school on its own by 2035.

Gordon MacInnis, CBU's vice-president of finance and operations, and Tanya Brann-Barrett, associate vice-president, of academic and research, said steps are being taken to expedite building.

For example, MacInnis said the university is opting for a construction management model, which will give university officials more of a say over how the work on the campus is carried out.

It comes at a time when a number of major construction projects are happening concurrently in Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

"This form of construction management is well known to us," said MacInnis "We've used it for different buildings over the years and we think it is particularly appropriate for this building given the tight timelines for construction."

$58.9M in provincial funding

The cost of establishing medical school is being covered by a $58.9 million investment from the provincial government.

The funding includes $49 million for the medical sciences building and related infrastructure, $6.2 million for a new collaborative-care clinic and $3.7 million to expand the health and counselling centre on campus.

The university is also eyeing the Nova Scotia Community College Marconi Campus, which is adjacent to the site for the proposed medical school.

In 2024, the college will move to a new downtown location and eventually vacate the building on Grand Lake Road. The province has announced that a new clinic would be built there. But MacInnis said if the province is looking to sell the property, CBU would be interested "as part of our campus rebuild."

A study group at Cape Breton University is looking at how to deal with students using AI software to write papers and also how professors can use it as a learning tool.
A study group at Cape Breton University is looking at how to deal with students using AI software to write papers and also how professors can use it as a learning tool.

University officials are adamant that the campus will be built and ready to welcome students by August 2025. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

Brann-Barrett said the operational costs for the medical school are still being determined.

Three local doctors have been hired to take on leadership roles.

Dr. Kevin Orrell has been named interim associate dean for the medical campus. Orrell was previously appointed special advisor to David Dingwall, CBU's president. Orrell has also served as the deputy minister of health and wellness.

Dr. Susan MacLeod and Dr. Jim MacKillop have also signed on as family medicine special advisors, facilitating conversations with physicians across the island to promote the medical school.

Staffing concerns

The idea of the medical school has drawn mixed reviews from local physicians, partly because of concerns over how it will be staffed.

Brann-Barrett said no physicians will be expected to contribute outside their already busy duties.

"They are at capacity, many of them," she said.

"What we want to do is make sure that this does not feel like a burden to our local physicians…. They can be as involved as they want to. They can be involved in the teaching, they can be involved in the research. But that's going to look different for every physician and we respect that."

Brann-Barrett adds that the university is open to any physician or community member who wants to offer suggestions or air concerns about the medical school's development.

"It's like building the building, it's not all going to be done overnight," she said.

In addition to construction plans and hiring, the university is working through admission and accreditation requirements, which Brann-Barrett said is happening in conjunction with Dalhousie.

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