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Foreign-trained doctors in B.C. stuck ‘sitting on a shelf’ instead of closing shortage of family physicians

July 15, 2022

By Vancouver Sun |

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

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

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

But there it ended.

At a time when B.C. is facing a crisis in health-care due to doctor shortages, Bhalla has not been able to secure a residency position, essential to qualify as a B.C. doctor. Of 3,000 residency positions offered each year, only about 10 per cent are for international applicants.

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

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

“What you hear from the government is ‘they’re not qualified,’ which is simply not true,” she said.

“If they really wanted to deal with the health-care crisis shortage, there are literally thousands of qualified Canadians who could step in tomorrow to work as resident physicians.”

There are 4,141 international medical graduates licensed to practice in B.C., according to the last annual report of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. That’s 30 per cent of all licensed B.C. physicians.

Of those foreign-trained doctors, 2,296, or 55 per cent, are from South Africa, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or the U.S. Physicians from those countries can bypass the worst roadblocks facing international medical graduates, such as mandatory residency training in Canada.

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