North of the 401

I attended the Northern Ontario Dental Association meeting in Timmins last September and spoke with many of the dentists who are practising throughout the region. I mentioned to them that I wanted to submit an article to Ontario Dentist extolling the features and benefits of working “north of highway 401.” First of all, credit must be given to Dr. Jim Brookfield of Kirkland Lake who coined the term.

Dr. Brookfield also commented that he was challenged by the broad spectrum of treatments he offers due to the lack of nearby specialists and he believes it adds to his professional satisfaction. I spoke to many such practitioners while at the convention and each had a different reason for favouring the lifestyle beyond the GTA. Here are just a few examples:

  • Dr. Don Francis of Timmins, the meeting organizer, mentioned that the lifestyle, friendly people and cost of living were important issues for him;
  • Dr. Rene Boljkovac of Timmins spoke of the regular hours and that evening appointments were not necessary;
  • Dr. Jim Davis, also from Timmins, told me that he really appreciates the professional companionship of his peers in the dental community.

Many other practitioners with whom I have spoken over the years have considered practising in northern Ontario at onetime or another for a variety of reasons. After thinking it through, many conclude that it is too far from family and friends or the climate is not to their liking and they end up staying in or around Greater Toronto.

In my opinion, practising in Northern Ontario is a very rewarding experience that has allowed many dentists to grow both personally and professionally. It’s worthy of serious consideration by anyone looking to establish themselves in practice.

Let’s address the perceived setbacks to living in northern Ontario:

  • remote locations;
  • distance from home and family;
  • climate (if you don’t like winter).

The advantages are often overlooked and once you consider them, you may change your mind. And for a new graduate in dentistry, conditions are often ideal to purchase a practice.

Financial Considerations

Northern practices that are for sale today have an average gross similar to the provincial average gross. Many operate on a four-day week, working few evenings, Fridays or Saturdays.

Overhead is typically a little less than in southern Ontario practices due to lower rents. The resulting net income for these practices is marginally higher than the provincial average.

Housing prices and property taxes are lower than southern Ontario, resulting in a reduced cost of living.

Professional Clinical Considerations

The frequency and highly repetitive nature of treatments due to busyness leads to improved skills on a much faster learning curve.

Clinical skills expand rapidly due to the lack of nearby specialists and the necessity to treat a multitude of cases.

Hospital privileges and time are common and, in some instances, “expected,” and this results in association with other health care professionals.

The overall scope and responsibility of practise is very high and, as such, growth as a professional is rapid.

Other Considerations

An individual who wishes to be community oriented will thrive in a northern city or town as dentistry as a profession is usually very highly regarded. Lifestyle is attractive for outdoor enthusiasts and family-oriented personalities.


Some townships can be very cooperative in providing modern facilities in which to practise (with very attractive terms and rents). Some practitioners share space with other medical professionals, which provides for professional companionship and a resource for clinical issues you may need to discuss.


Northern Ontario is not for everyone. I’ve appraised dozens of practices and have often met with relaxed and happy practitioners. Incomes are attractive and the lifestyle is unsurpassed.

I suggest that anyone who is dissatisfied with practise in the Greater Toronto Area may find Northern Ontario to be a wonderful alternative.

Ontario Dentist  – April 1999