When Scott Chisholm first told people he wanted a medical school to change its curriculum, they laughed and said it would take 15 years.
But after the founder of the Collateral Damage Project told the story of growing up in Marathon and his father's suicide to students at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, that timeline shorted significantly.
"It really only took 45 minutes," he said Wednesday.
First-year medical students will now undergo safe TALK training to help identify people with suicidal thoughts. Chisholm said after he spoke to students they realized they didn't have the tools necessary to deal with suicide prevention, a problem plaguing Northern and First Nation communities they will eventually work in.
"This is huge," Chisholm said. "This is such a significant step."
Chisholm credits MD program coordinator Brian Ross for recognizing medical students lacked training. Ross said its part of the school's mandate to have social accountability to the community. Suicide, and its root causes from poverty to marginalization, is a major health concern for the North.
"It's something our students will be seeing every day of their career," he said of the root causes.
Safe TALK is just a start for first-year students to tackle a taboo subject Ross said. Before a doctor can learn and work with the issues, they have to be comfortable talking about it. Other programs will continue as they mover through their education.
"We don't want it as something that they just do in their third year in a workshop," Ross said.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said suicide has taken more than 500 lives in less than 30 years in NAN communities. The initiative will help doctors in those communities focus on mental health along with physical well-being.
"I think this training will go along way in providing them with the tools they need," he said.
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