Foreign-trained doctors in BC left ‘sitting on a shelf’ rather than close GP shortage

Lack of residency positions in BC, critical to final credentials, leaves international medical graduates in limbo

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Five years ago, Amit Bhalla closed his practice as a radiologist in India, left his wife and children and came to Canada to establish a career and a new life for themselves here.

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A foreign-trained doctor currently waiting to take the oath to become a Canadian citizen, Bhalla was granted admission to Canada based on a number of qualifying factors, including experience, education and proficiency in English.

Since arriving in 2017, he has written and passed his Medical Council of Canada qualifying exam.

But there it ended.

At a time when BC is facing a health care crisis due to a physician shortage, Bhalla has been unable to obtain a residency position, essential to qualify as a BC physician. Of the 3,000 residency positions offered each year, only about 10 percent are for international applicants.

Amit Bhalla is an international medical graduate awaiting a residency in BC
Amit Bhalla is an international medical graduate awaiting a residency in BC Photo by Amit Bhalla /jpg

“The government wants me as a doctor, but I think it’s the licensing authorities, they’re the ones that qualify, so they’re creating a hurdle,” Bhalla said. “It must be based on merit. Once I come here, I’m Canadian, right? So why would they treat me like a foreigner?

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It’s not just wrong, it’s systemic, says Rosemary Pawliuk, president of the Society of Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad.

“What you hear from the government is that they are ‘unqualified,’ which is simply not true,” he said.

“If they really wanted to deal with the shortages of the health care crisis, there are literally thousands of qualified Canadians who could come in tomorrow to work as medical residents.”

There are 4,141 international medical graduates licensed to practice in BC, according to the latest annual report from the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons. That’s 30 percent of all with licence BC doctors.

Of those foreign-trained doctors, 2,296, or 55%, are from South Africa, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or the US Doctors from those countries can navigate the worst obstacles they face international medical graduates, such as mandatory residency training. in Canada.

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There are an estimated 5,000 foreign-trained physicians in BC, both Canadian citizens and immigrant physicians, who have gone to great lengths to have their credentials recognized and demonstrate that they have the knowledge and skills to obtain a residency position.

“Some of these immigrant doctors are just amazing in terms of qualifications, and there they are, sitting on the shelf,” Pawliuk said. “What’s really heartbreaking is how they are marginalized and called inferior, uncredited and insecure.”

Herbert Emery, an economist and adviser to federal and provincial lawmakers, says international medical graduates are a contentious issue.

“There are a number of people in the medical profession who feel it’s unethical to bring international medical graduates to Canada because the country that paid for their education costs, they should stay … and practice there,” said Emery, who heads the Institute. Atlantic Center for Policy Research at the University of New Brunswick.

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And some say international medical graduates threaten the standards the health care industry tries to uphold, he said.

Pawliuk replies that international medical graduates have to excel in Medical Council exams to get residency positions.

BC Health Minister Adrian Dix says international medical graduates present a way to deal with a shortage of family doctors.

“We have to address creating additional spaces nationally, adding what is called our PRA positions,” Dix said. The PRA or Practice Preparation Assessment programs are a route for international doctors who have practiced abroad to obtain a license here.

“Those are options, and all of those options are being considered right now,” Dix said.

Pawliuk said that in 2020 the government promised a new medical school at SFU to address the shortage of doctors. She calls it the “never-never plan.”

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“To build a new medical school at SFU, there needs to be discussion, there needs to be a business plan, there needs to be time to build infrastructure,” he said. “You need to create a curriculum, then you need to staff. After you do all of that, you need four years of medical school and then you need three years of residency training.”

In two years since the announcement there has been no funding or business plan, he said: “The new medical school is aimed at reassuring the public that something is up. But realistically, that’s a plan for 10 or 15 years in the future.”

Bhalla has decided to leave Canada to gain clinical experience in the United States, where there is less competition for residencies. There are only 349 residency positions in Canada reserved for international medical graduates, while the US has 40,000 residency positions, open to all to compete.

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Bhalla is willing to work in any province, the Northwest Territories, and any underserved area. In the meantime, he has been driving for Uber and working as a security guard to make ends meet while he waits for a residence and family from him.

“I want to live in Canada, I want to serve the people. I want to thank Canada for letting me be Canadian.”

Claire Wilson and Nicolette Colosimo are recipients of the 2022 Langara College Read-Mercer Journalism Scholarship. This feature was produced through the Fraternity.


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