When Paul Winwood arrived in Prince George five years ago, the academic physician found the training centre on the site of UHNBC to be nothing more than a "dilapidated portacabin."
Now the northern regional associate dean for UBC's faculty of medicine, Winwood was all smiles on Friday describing the $9.9 million new learning and development centre, which will be built next to the hospital. He said the building will not only improve the academic programming, it could also help recruit and retain physicians.
"It will go a long way to making people want to come and work here," Winwood said. "It's not just about bringing our own students back - which I'm very keen to do - but it's about recruiting new physicians from outside of Prince George."
The building will be used for things like distance learning, where medical students and residents working at UHNBC can take part in lectures given in Vancouver, Victoria or elsewhere; and simulation learning, where students use a high-tech mannequin to diagnosis and react to emergency medical conditions. The auditorium will feature seats clustered in groups, each with their own monitor, to facilitate small group activities as part of a larger lecture.
There will also be space to bring specific equipment for specialized topics, as well as a library located on site.
The dilapidated trailer that Winwood saw when he first arrived in Prince George has since been replaced when the B.C. Cancer Agency Centre for the North was built, but the temporary digs in the hospital still leave much to be desired and limit the amount of training that can be offered on site.
The new building, to be completed in 2014, will be located adjacent to the main entrance to the hospital.
Northern Health chairman Charles Jago called the learning centre "the final physical piece of the Northern Medical Program." Although it's been planned for a decade, Jago said in retrospect he's glad it has taken so long to come to fruition.
"I think we have a better sense of the kind of facility we need," Jago said. "I'm delighted we've had the time to give it careful thought and we're coming up with a first-class facility."
Jago said upwards of 1,000 students in a variety of healthcare disciplines - from doctors and nurses to lab and X-ray technicians - work out of UHNBC each year and all will be using different aspects of the new building.
"It's a major training hospital right now and that will expand over time," Jago said. "[The new learning centre] will also be linked to other training sites in northern B.C. so it will support the further development of very highly qualified medical and healthcare professionals."
The learning centre will be of particular interest to the 30 residents who are based out of UHNBC, but it will also be used by the 128 undergraduate medical students who are part of the Northern Medical Program.
The business case for the building, expected to be 1,150 square metres (12,000 square feet), has been approved by the province and a tender for the contract is expected to go out this summer. A detailed design has yet to be completed.