Regulations prevent foreign-trained BC doctor from practicing – Penticton Western News
When British Columbia began vaccinating people against COVID-19, a Langford woman trained as a family physician contacted Island Health and offered to help administer the shots.
Performing an intramuscular injection is one of the easiest skills she has mastered as a doctor. But we told him no.
Educated in India, Upkar (whose name has been withheld to protect her identity because she fears professional repercussions for speaking out) is just one of hundreds of international medical graduates who come to Canada each year to find significant barriers to practice.
This is especially true for those trained outside of English-speaking countries.
“What I hear after all these years of trying to get over this is that no matter what I do, just because of where I come from, my country of upbringing, I will never be good enough” , she said.
To practice in Canada, international medical graduates must pass a series of national medical exams, complete a residency at a Canadian university, obtain certification, and then apply for a provincial license.
However, securing a residence can be exceptionally difficult, with less than 10% of places reserved for international students.
The Canadian Residency Matching Service, an organization that works to place graduate medical students and others in available residencies, found that only 325 of 3,365 spots were allocated to non-Canadian graduates in 2021 – a clear sign that ‘Upkar faces huge odds just to get such a position. She has applied three times to the family medicine residency program at the University of British Columbia without success and plans to try again.
To keep her skills up to date, Upkar took medical courses and periodically returned to India to practice. She also went there when COVID hit, to make sure her abilities weren’t wasted.
In India, Upkar is a respected doctor. In Canada, she has been forced to spend 12 years in roles for which she is highly overqualified, including a stint at Walmart, while doctor shortages and burnout wreak havoc on the healthcare system.
“I moved here because I thought I would be treated like a human, not just a woman. And then I moved here, and yes, I’m treated like a human, but suboptimal.
Around the same time Island Health told Upkar it couldn’t administer vaccines, it trained a group of firefighters to do so last summer. The situation was absurdly insulting, she said.
She turned to volunteering at vaccination clinics, checking people in or showing them where to go.
“I wanted to get involved, I wanted to help my community in a small way.”
Robert Falconer, a researcher at the University of Calgary in the school of public policy, said there is an element of systemic racism embedded in the health care system that needs to be addressed.
“Why exactly do we think the medical education of graduates from various interesting and diverse places around the world is actually much poorer than Canadian education?” Many of these doctors are dealing with traumatic and chronic illnesses in these countries, which actually gives them good experience that would serve them well here in Canada,” he said.
Falconer’s best known estimate suggests that there are 5,000 non-practicing foreign-trained physicians in Canada. According to the World Health Organization‘s recommendation on the doctor-to-patient ratio, they could serve five million Canadians — coincidentally, the exact number the Canadian Medical Association estimates are without a doctor.
Two pilot projects that began during the pandemic give Falconer hope.
In Ontario, the province has begun allowing international medical graduates who have passed the Canadian exams, but have not completed their residency, to acquire temporary licenses. Unfortunately, the project largely failed because graduates had to be hired before the province issued the license, and almost no clinic or hospital would hire them without a license. If modified though, Falconer thinks it could work.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia came up with the idea of associate licensing, where an international graduate would be allowed to work under the supervision of a fully licensed physician. Falconer imagines this could end up being a good alternative to a residence.
Either way, he said, it’s time for governments to start seriously questioning the current system.
“For some reason we’re still doing this stuff that was created by old white dudes 50 years ago,” Falconer said.
Upkar thought about returning to India and working as a doctor several times, but said she was too determined to give up.
“Part of me wants to fight for it because I know I’m good for it.”
She also wants to prove to her children that Canada is a good place to live.
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British ColumbiaDoctorsGrand VictoriaHealthImmigrationIndiaWest Shore