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Doctors Without Residency: Why can’t foreign-trained doctors find work in Canada?

This post was written by Aisling Chin-Yee and it also appears on the Work For All website.

Doctors Without Residency, Tetchena Bellange, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Doctors Without Residency is a short documentary exploring the issue of foreign trained doctors being unable to obtain a residency in Canada. All the while, one hundred residency positions remain unfilled every year in Quebec, alone.

It’s hard to understand why these professionals are pushed aside when it’s clear that the health care system is lacking in resources. The situation facing doctors is also a powerful symbol for where our society is heading. We’re confronted with a dichotomy: We are told that the future rests on a workforce with more immigrants and people who identify as visible minorities, but what’s actually being done to move towards this future? When the talents of foreign doctors are ignored and hospital staffing needs are unmet, we all lose out.

Production challenges

It wasn’t just the topic of this film that was difficult to tackle, but the production as well. Tetchena Bellange, who directed the piece, faced a very telling hurdle: not a single doctor she spoke to wanted to appear on camera. And that’s in spite of the fact they clearly had a lot to say about the issue. (You’ll be able to find out more about these challenges over the next few days. We’ll be posting interviews with Tetchena that we shot during the production of her film).

It’s in these instances that we see evidence of systemic racism: The system itself leans in favour of discrimination since there are no outlets for these doctors to voice their concerns. To draw another parallel, the willingness to ignore the problem is similar to the fight to protect the environment: The line “It’s not my problem” becomes discriminatory in and of itself.

“A foreign doctor can help”

A film can also serve as an eye-opener. It’s great to see Dr. Amouzou, of Médecins d’Ailleurs, tell us that “A doctor can be useful in a hospital. There are a lot of overworked doctors… A foreign doctor can help.” Seems obvious, huh? It’s often these simple questions that make us shift perspective. By seeing the faces behind the issues (and the headlines), we become inspired to get involved and take action.

This is the second film in our Work  for All series. The first film, Jaded, is a short mockumentary that turns the tables on racism in the office.

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  1. Its really very depressing for a professional person. Its high level of discriminating an International Trained doctor. If a person got his/her qualification from a WHO recognized institute, it means there is some standard of training. Still to evaluate that doctor who for example has worked in his/her specialty for 20-30 yrs, you evaluate in his branch only. But irony is that MCC want to go for a basic exam which includes other branches. A specialist doctor keeps himself / herself up-to-date in their own branch, not in other branches. There are lots of ways to evaluate a highly experienced IMG in their own branch and utilizing their skills & expertise. MCC think that only Canada trained doctors are good , their training is proper . Rest of the world they don’t have good doctors. In other countries patients don’t get treated & get cured. Are they dying in hands of those doctors? I can layout a very good and proper way of evaluating an IMG depending on their expertise & experience. Yes authentication of their qualification is must. Canada is so short of doctors that to get an specialist appointment, you need to wait for months & months. Even majority of remote places, no specialist available and patient need to travel long distances. MCC must think about it. I feel the committee who puts the plans and recommendations are biased. They should be replaced immediately & bring some un-biased persons.

    — drprakash_me,
  2. This is a real eye-opener. Can you imagine one of the Professors said “African Doctors are no doubt good at treating malaria”. He went to the extent of saying you don’t see heart attack, cancer etc in Africa. This is a real testimony of the stereotypic ideas that most of the faculties involved in the selection process have about IMGs. IMGs spend lots of resources and time upgrading their skills, writing exams and applying into programs, with the hope that their dream and aspiration will one day be brought to fruition. Meanwhile, the system appears to be insensitive to all these efforts and sincerity. One of the confusing part of the licensing process is the number of organizations you have to register with for verification and at the end non of them appear to work in collaboration with the other. CaRMS will tell you they do not recognize some documents already verified by physicians apply and you need to contact your school and the likes to resend documents (already verified by PCRC). It is indeed a sacrifice that I hope one day will pay off.

    On the other hand, I cannot shy away from the fact that there has been an increase in the numbers of IMGs that are being accepted into the residency programs, but I hope this numbers could be stepped up in the nearest future.

    *** Funding has been noted as the greatest obstacle preventing programs from accepting more IMGs into residency training. Let me offer an idea: The government can set up a “loaning system” similar to the college/University student loan whereby IMGs will pay back in full the cost of their training after program completion. I want to encourage my fellow IMGs not to give up or relent in their struggle to add values to patients’ lives through practicing what we have been trained to do. I am proud to be a Doctor and I hope to be called one in Canada soonest.

    — Abbey,
  3. It is all about the money. Of course all these foreign doctors want to practice in Canada. They see physicians here making at least $250K a year, and they want a piece of the action. The problem is, where are we going to find the money to pay for them? Add 1,000 foreign doctors to our system, and now we have to find an extra $25 million a year to pay them. Once the tap is opened, it cannot be turned off. It will be a fiscal cliff of our own making.

    — Cash strapped,
  4. Screw Canada. USA is the best.I am an IMG in US and I think this is the best place to practice medicine

    — Ziphyr,
  5. Why go to a Canadian medical school when you can go to Coconut college where the standards are lower? Some of my friends who didn’t get high grades to get into Canadian medical schools left and went to the US. I guess Canadian Drs are the super elite and the best. I feel comfortable when I find out my Dr went to the University of Toronto or McMaster where the entrance requirements are vigorous. Maybe the problem is some schools abroad don’t meet the standards of Canadian schools. Maybe when doctors know they want to practice in Canada they should go to a Canadian Medical school and pay the rates here. They are lower than some international places. That’s just my two cents.

    — Laura,
  6. Its just Raduculus and shit … patients are treated by doctors with the means of medicine not the citizenship of colour of skin…

    — Ratna,
  7. unbellievable… am an IMG too they must stop or reduce training foreigners and give chance to immigrants to do residencies .. or they must use this money to get us new residency spots …

    — DrIMG,
  8. This is a great documentary which shows the typical viewpoints from the point of view of an IMG and “The Establishment”.

  9. I am Canadian born. I met my husband, a doctor in Zimbabwe, while I was volunteering at a mission hospital. My husband immigrated in 2008 and has been going through hell jumping through hoops to be able to practice in Ontario. He works full time and has to study during free time. He gets up at 3 a.m. every day to study and meets with study groups. We’ve paid thousands in exam fees and the rules keep changing so the rug gets pulled out from under him. After 3 years of this and little movement, he’s now considering going home where he was practicing as are his colleagues. All I can say is that this country is exceedingly racist and I’m disgusted by the back of the bus practices that are legitimized here. It must be stopped. There are thousands of internationally trained doctors unable to practice here and huge doctor shortages.

    — Connie Marangwanda,
    1. @ Connie…wow! I am also a Canadian and my husband is Zimbabwean who recently got accepted into medical school in Malawi…I was worried that coming back to Canada may not work out but I found that it was possible so I thought to take the chance. We are not sure where we want to settle yet but I’d like Canada to be an open option. Is your husband having to redo his medicine if he wants to stay here?

      — Natasha Hatendi,
  10. As a floor nurse in a busy metropolitan hospital, I find it absolutely rediculous that foreign physicans (and nurses) are denied the ability to practice when they are so very much needed. Doctors and nurses are making mistakes because they are tired, overworked and have little or no recourse except to keep working even when their energy and resources are depleted. The Canadian medical system should be appalled for treating our worldly professionals neighbours in such a discrimanatory way. What can WE, , those in the profession, do to help change this broken system? Because it needs fixing.

    — WorkingNurse,
  11. To Bill. The only reason for shortage of MD in Canada is the selfish sense. Of course in some countries as the mine we pay 20000 per all medicine school while our fathers get 300 per month.

    — santiago,
  12. Yup. Let all the foreign educated doctors practice in Canada. They never paid taxes nin Canada and never paid a penny to Canadian Universities for their education. Most canadian doctors pay hundreds of thousands ofdollars for their Canadian doctorate while many froreign doctors pay ten thousand dollars for their training in India or Iran or wherever. |Why not outsource our education system to india.

    — bill,
  13. I find the “justification” given by the officials plain simple lies.I am a canadian who attended a foreign medical school.I trained at some of the top institutions in the US and am currently faculty at an American Medical school.I always wanted to come back to Canada but every time I have tried to come back I have been met with hurdles and pure simple discrimination as a ‘Foreign Doc”.I would like to ask these geniuses who give these absurd reasons why a US trained, US boarded CANADIAN physician who is published and Faculty in the USA not qualified to practice in Canada? It is a simple matter of descrimination and fear. The old Canadian doctors benefit from the shortage….long lines mean job security so they continue to limit the number of doctors coming in for pure selfish reasons. Canada may have become more diverse to look at but still has a long way to go as far as getting rid of discrimination in the workplace especially medicine. This may have still worked in the past but with a booming population they better wake up before they have true a crises on their hands. I even know Canadian med school graduates who trained in the states who have similar problems. The funniest story I have is when I spoke to a professor at the Univ of Toronto about wanting to come back to Canada after training at an equally competitive university training program in the US with a much bigger research budget.He said you can come back but you would have to train again for a few years in canada. When asked why I needed further training after putting in 6 years in the US his answer was ” Canadian medicine was different” which I found hilarious as Im a cancer doc and Chemo is the same everywhere. It was pure simple obstructionism. All I can say is I wish my fellow Canadians luck in the future.If they let the Royal college and the Doctors status Quo in Canada keep making decisions they will never have enough doctors.It is not in the interest of the doctors currently taking advantage(read raping)the system to have enough doctors.After all how else would they take tehir vacations and make so much money. Canada needs radical change and the only way to do it is by pressuring the government into tackling this issue through legislation and alternate licensing. There is a reason America gets some of the best doctors from all over the world…they welcome them and treat them with respect…at least they did with me.I make more than I would in Canada and they have given me a citizenship..all based on my qualifications which are not good enough for Canada!!!

    — Canadian Doc,
  14. How true the facts express in this film! The worst of all: the stereotypes and discrimination come from the institutions. The scarce-ones that had been able to pass through all the obstacles, realize almost immediately that the Canadian population is very welcoming to the international medical graduates.
    Do not give-up!

    — Sofia Sahmkow,
  15. I’m so glad to hear about this film. It’s exactly the questions I’ve been wondering about. I sure hope that this can bring this issue higher up in the awareness of Canadians. I’m looking forward to watching this. Thank you for making this film and to the people who spoke up.

    — Cathy,
  16. Nice that we are talking about this. An important issue with many valid points of view, concerns, and possible courses of action. The path a doctor takes is a difficult one, let us treat them with respect and encourage a course of funding to increase internships. WE NEED DOCTORS – doesn’t matter where they are from.

    — Michael Wood,
    1. I am so glad and feel nostalgic watching this short film. Thank you much for making this film. It is the same here in USA. Ambiguousness makes it difficult to know what they want. I was a General surgeon in my home country and could not get a residency because I was an “old International medical graduate”. This was in 2010 – wow it is four years now- and I am still depressed that I cannot practice surgery or medicine here in USA. I am doing a non-clinical job but once you are a doctor, being out of touch with patients can be very depressing. I will work here for a few years and go back to my country.

      — jackie hoffman,

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