Schulich Medicine to host Canada's first residency program in pain medicine

This July, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry will host the country’s first pain management residency training program. This two year subspecialty residency will train experts in the treatment and rehabilitation from acute, chronic and cancer pain conditions. Dr. Pat Morley-Forster, professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and the director of the Pain Management Program at St. Joseph’s Health Care has been working for the last seven years to find ways to better train physicians to treat chronic pain, a condition that currently affects one in five Canadians.

“We know that chronic pain has been a hidden epidemic for the last 20 years in Canada,” said Dr. Morley-Forster. “We realized there was a huge gap in knowledge and care that needed to be addressed.”

Because of the efforts of Dr. Morley-Forster and her colleagues in pain management, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada recently approved Pain Medicine as a new medical subspecialty, opening the door for Schulich Medicine to begin a resident training program in this new discipline.

Dr. Chris Watling, Associate Dean of Postgraduate Medical Education at Schulich Medicine, says that it is rare for the Royal College to approve new medical disciplines and when they do it is because the case has been made that it is something that the Canadian population desperately needs. However, funding for the program doesn’t automatically follow accreditation.

The Ontario Ministry of Health funds all residency training programs in Ontario but has made it clear that they have no additional funds at this time for new programs or expansions. At Schulich Medicine, there was enough of a funding cushion to allow for one resident to begin this summer without having to cut other programs.

“We thought it was important that we have a pain medicine program here because if we are a medical school that is responsive to the needs of our community then we should, wherever possible, identify these gaps and do what we can to start addressing them,” Dr. Watling said. “We are also uniquely positioned to be able to host this program effectively.”

Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and St. Joseph’s Health Care were already leading the way in pain management; home to a multidisciplinary pain clinic as well as the Earl Russell Chair in Pain Management, both made possible by a donation from the late Dr. Earl Russell in the late 1990s.

The two-year residency program includes one full year in the multidisciplinary clinic exposing the residents to a range of experts including physiotherapists, psychologists and addictions specialists.  Other rotations consist of neurology, psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation and pediatric pain. While the new residency program will be administered by the Department of Anesthesiology, it will accept those applying from a range of disciplines including physical medicine and rehabilitation, internal medicine, neurology and psychiatry.

“There are eight different entry routes, but they will all come out of it at the end having the same understanding about pain,” said Dr. Morley-Forester. “This is very important, because as different specialties across Canada discussed the training process, we realized how important it is that we all agree on what a pain medicine specialist should be, no matter where they started.”

The hope is that these new pain specialists will not just be experts in their fields but will also be the leaders and ambassadors for this new discipline. “I hope that this will just be the beginning of a shift in the way we address chronic pain in Canada,” she said.