Medical schools do their part to tackle the opioid crisis

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New curriculum allows Canadian medical students, residents and practicing physicians to be better equipped in the diagnosis, treatment and management of pain

The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada in collaboration with the 17 faculties of medicine across Canada are responding to the surge of overdoses and opioid-related deaths in Canada by leading the creation of a Canada-wide, bilingual, comprehensive, and competency-based curricula for current and future physicians in pain management, opioid use disorder and addiction medicine. 

With financial support from Health Canada through its Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP), AFMC’s Response to Opioid Crisis project received $5.2 million to develop an Undergraduate Medical Education (UGME), Postgraduate Medical Education (PGME), and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) curriculum consisting of bilingual online modules that would address gaps in current educational offerings. This will level the playing field and ensure all Canadian medical students, residents and physicians have access to this foundational curriculum.

Working in tandem with the University of Montreal’s Centre of Excellence on Partnership with Patients and the Public (CEPPP), patients have been instrumental in integrating their lived-experience and perspective within the curricula. They have co-created both the curriculum and the Physician-Patient Partnership Toolkit, which provides information and tools for physicians and patients to enhance dialogue and collaboration to improve care.


“AFMC is pleased to be releasing a competency-based curricula for medical students, residents and practicing physicians. This will lead to better care and more effective treatment for patients, improving health outcomes.”

Dr. Lisa Graves, Project Lead

“The curricula were developed in co-construction with patient-experts, who contributed to the content by sharing their experiential knowledge, their life experiences with chronic pain and opioid use, and their challenges that patients can face. This provides a solid foundation for a patient-physician partnership based on mutual trust, essential to optimize treatment success and partnership, and reduce the risk of substance use disorder that, in part, causes the present crisis. By doing so, medical knowledge and experiential knowledge are incorporated in more realistic modules. This approach proposes to consider the patient as a caregiver and as a full partner in pain management.” 

Catherine Lemyze, Patient with Lived Experience, Subject Matter Expert

“Sharing my patient lived pain experience perspective on the AFMC Response to Opioid Crisis project resonated with me deeply and it has been a privilege to work on the development of the curricula. Seeing first-hand these efforts of the medical community to improve care for chronic pain patients and opioid prescribing gives me such hope in tackling related biases and stigma.”

Jennifer Daly-Cyr, Person with Lived Pain Experience, Subject Matter Expert

“The work done by the AFMC in leading the development of curricula for physician competencies to diagnose and treat opioid addiction is outstanding. Treating mental health and addictions is a priority in medical education and the AFMC’s work in addressing the gaps in this critical area is changing the landscape for all health systems trying to meet the needs of Canadians. This is social accountability in action.” 

Dr Sarita Verma President, Vice Chancellor, Dean and CEO, NOSM University.

“As a physician Subject Matter Expert for the AFMC Response to Opioid Crisis Project, I worked collaboratively with a patient with lived experience to create curriculum content and I firmly believe we made a far better teaching tool than I could have developed alone.  I cannot say how important I felt this was for our medical trainees and in fact all healthcare professionals whose work is touched by patients using opioids whether prescribed or taken recreationally. Those of us in the pain and addiction communities have been crying out for years about developing curriculum to help healthcare providers safely manage all aspects of opioid use.  With the guidance of AFMC, we have developed a comprehensive, world class program.”

Dr. Lydia Hatcher, Associate Clinical Professor McMaster University, Clinical Associate Professor Memorial University of Newfoundland