With an increase in patients during the pandemic, various provinces have responded by implementing solutions to make it easier for foreign trained doctors to serve their Canadian community. Canada faced a physician shortage, even before the pandemic hit. The shortage is projected to only worsen in the coming decade. The COVID-19 crisis has shed more light on this issue and how Canada can fill these labour gaps with foreign doctors. Throughout the pandemic, many internationally trained physicians were left on the sidelines due to a cumbersome licensing process. Some provinces have responded to the shortage by easing the licensing process to allow these doctors to work in Canada.
What challenges do internationally trained physicians face?
Foreign physicians must take additional exams and go through processes and certifications not required of Canadian graduates. Even after going through these additional processes, many are unable to find a residency position; 90% of residency positions are unavailable to internationally trained doctors. One foreign trained physician expressed her concerns about the lack of residency spots available for those in her position,
Only two residency positions are offered in my obstetrics specialty for internationally trained doctors. I didn’t get either of them, so I had to get a job outside the medical field
How are provinces resolving this issue?
Since the pandemic, provinces across Canada have been wrestling with how to overcome a shortage of physicians in the wake of a growing number of patients.
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, British Columbia and Ontario had offered short-term licenses to foreign trained doctors. This initiative allowed foreign doctors to temporarily work in the province, despite not completing their Canadian residency. While only a short-term solution, the initiative demonstrated the provinces’ potential to fill these labour gaps by easing the process for internationally trained doctors.
Canadian health professionals are speaking out about this issue. Former chief medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal health urges provinces to provide more funding for additional residencies to combat the shortage available to foreign trained doctors,
We have a large cadre of human beings who are fully trained doctors, fully capable of becoming contributing members of our community as doctors, but they need to have a residency to show the licensing bodies that they can do the job,
Dr. John Blatherwick, the former chief medical health officer of Vancouver Coastal Health
Meanwhile, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia have responded by speeding up the lengthy licensing process.
We can’t be grateful for COVID, but I think the last year has improved licensure processes around the country. They happen faster, with less administrative burden and without any compromise of safety.
Dr. Gus Grant, the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia to CBC News
Provincial Nominee Programs for Physicians
Nova Scotia is also among the provinces offering a nominee stream for physicians. Candidates with a qualifying job offer are eligible to apply to the province for nomination. Nova Scotia does not require for candidates to be licensed, but applicants must be eligible to apply for licensure.
British Columbia is also using nominee programs to help recruit foreign physicians. The province offers a stream for qualifying healthcare professionals with job offers in the province, including doctors. They also offer free recruitment services through HealthMatch BC. This government funded program assists health care professionals with the licensing processes and requirements for working in the province.
Receiving a nomination from one of these programs would allow physicians to become permanent residents.
The pandemic has highlighted Canada’s need to facilitate the licensing process for those who have completed their training abroad. We hope to see more funding for residency positions and to continue to see initiatives that ease the burdensome licensing process to better allow newcomer physicians to fill labour gaps.