Foreign-trained doctors say they could help fill BC’s doctor shortage, but face too many hurdles

As emergency rooms in some rural parts of the province had to close over the weekend due to staffing shortages, some foreign-trained doctors say barriers to practice in Canada have forced them to look for another career.

On Sunday, Interior Health announced that South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver, B.C., will be closed from noon to 6 p.m. On Friday, emergency departments at Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater and Ashcroft Hospital and Community Health Care Center closed for the weekend.

Honieh Barzegari, who graduated as a family doctor in Iran before immigrating to Canada, says she is advocating for international medical graduates (IMGs) and a change in the province’s healthcare system to make it easier to practice foreign-trained physicians in British Columbia

“The system is set up to fail international medical graduates rather than empower them to practice here,” Barzegari told CBC. The first edition.

On Friday, the emergency department at Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater, in the British Columbia interior, closed for the weekend. (Inner Health)

Barzegari said she moved to Canada knowing there should be practice opportunities due to the continued shortage of family doctors in British Columbia, but was unaware of all the costs and the time it would take.

“The financial barrier is significant because the exams are very expensive, and I also need to live and pay my bills,” she said. “The emotional barrier of trying and failing and not being able to get the license is a big deal.”

Barzegari now works as a clinical solutions manager at a medical manufacturing company.

The Institute for Canadian Citizenship, which helps newcomers and people applying for citizenship, estimates that there are thousands of foreign-trained doctors whose qualifications have enabled them to gain Canadian citizenship quickly, but provincial regulators refuse to recognize their credentials.

Stigma around international training

Valorie Crooks, a professor in the department of geography at Simon Fraser University, says Canadian students who decide to study medicine in another country don’t know what it takes to come back and practice medicine in Canada.

“A lot of people who start choosing these schools don’t realize that they will come back as International Medical Graduates (IMGs).

“They will have to enter the medical profession in the same way as others who have been trained abroad.”

A healthcare worker is pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia, in January. Some foreign-trained physicians in the province say barriers to practice in Canada have forced them to seek other careers. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

She said that in addition to all the qualifying tests and recognized medical degrees, there is a stigma around students who decide to pursue medical training elsewhere.

“One of the points raised is the concern about the quality of education in these institutions, so it creates a layer of stigma that some returning Canadians will have to face in addition to other barriers.”

Crooks said many IMGs are “locked out” of the system simply because there isn’t enough capacity in the province’s health care system to allow them to practice.

“The number of Canadians going abroad to study medicine and wanting to come back and practice further limits the space available for those who were not born and raised in Canada.”

Add more places in residence

Rajkumar Vijendra Das, a family doctor in Vancouver, British Columbia, said he immigrated to Canada in 2010 from India after working as a doctor in his home country for more than five years.

He said it took him about eight years to pass the qualifying exams and complete his residency before he could practice medicine — which could have taken less time had he been accepted into a residency sooner.

“So I took all the necessary exams and applied for residency. I applied all over Canada and was ready to go anywhere. I had the experience too, but I didn’t I wasn’t up to it.”

He said he worked in a call center to save money to pay for expensive exams IMGs must pass, which are only offered a few times a year.

“Exams can cost $2,000 or more, and you have to take several. I had to save up for that.”

Das says he eventually returned to India to gain more clinical experience before returning to British Columbia and reapplying for residency.

A man in black work clothes is behind a window, with a stretcher in front of him.
A stretcher sits outside St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver in January 2021. The Institute for Canadian Citizenship estimates there are thousands of internationally trained doctors whose qualifications have enabled them to quickly obtain Canadian citizenship, but provincial regulators refuse to recognize their credentials. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“My employer gave me some time off and I was able to go back to India, but not everyone can because they have families to support,” he said.

Das said more residency spots need to be designated for IMGs in British Columbia

“UBC has 52 residence spots for IMGs,” he said. “So it becomes a lottery facility, and it becomes so competitive, but if you had double that number, then it would make sense.”

The Canadian Resident Matching Service 2021 report shows that 325 international medical graduates were matched for residency out of 3,365 matches.

Das said he is one of the lucky ones who was able to pursue a career in medicine in Canada when so many others were forced to do other things.

In March, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia said a program designed to bring more internationally trained physicians into BC’s medical profession had been delayed due to the impact of the pandemic on surgeries.

The college said the new physician associate role could help meet the province’s health care needs by allowing physicians who do not qualify for full licensure to work under the supervision of a physician.

College Registrar Dr. Heidi Oetter said once the program is in place and fully operational, it should help attract more doctors to BC’s healthcare system.