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Original Research

Exploring the role of social capital in supporting a regional medical education campus

Submitted: 1 April 2011
Revised: 31 August 2011
Published: 8 November 2011

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Author(s) : Toomey P, Hanlon N, Bates J, Poole G, Lovato CY.

Chris Lovato

Citation: Toomey P, Hanlon N, Bates J, Poole G, Lovato CY.  Exploring the role of social capital in supporting a regional medical education campus. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2011; 11: 1774. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017)


Introduction:  To help address physician shortages in the underserved community of Prince George, Canada, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and various partners created the Northern Medical Program (NMP), a regional distributed site of UBC’s medical doctor undergraduate program. Early research on the impacts of the NMP revealed a high degree of social connectedness. The objective of the present study was to explore the role of social capital in supporting the regional training site and the benefits accrued to a broad range of stakeholders and network partners.
Methods:  In this qualitative study, 23 semi-structured interviews were conducted with community leaders in 2007. A descriptive content analysis based on analytic induction technique was employed. Carpiano’s Bourdieu-based framework of 'neighbourhood' social capital was adapted to empirically describe how social capital was produced and mobilized within and among networks during the planning and implementation of the NMP.
Results:  Results from this study reveal that the operation of social capital and the related concept of social cohesion are multifaceted, and that benefits extend in many directions, resulting in somewhat unanticipated benefits for other key stakeholders and network partners of this medical education program. Participants described four aspects of social capital: (i) social cohesion; (ii) social capital resources; (iii) access to social capital; and (iv) outcomes of social capital.
Conclusions:  The findings of this study suggest that the partnerships and networks formed in the NMP planning and implementation phases were the foundation for social capital mobilization. The use of Carpiano’s spatially-bounded model of social capital was useful in this context because it permitted the characterization of relations and networks of a tight-knit community body. The students, faculty and administrators of the NMP have benefitted greatly from access to the social capital mobilized to make the NMP operational. Taking account of the dynamic and multifaceted operation of social capital helps one move beyond a view of geographic communities as simply containers or sinks of capital investment, and to appreciate the degree to which they may act as a platform for productive network formation and expansion.

Key words: Bourdieu, Canada, medical education, medicine, remote, rural, satellite medical campus, social capital, social cohesion, underserved.

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