The pandemic is blocking BC’s associate doctor’s plan

BC’s cure for bringing more foreign-trained doctors into the medical profession has been delayed, sidelining potential candidates and prolonging pressure on the province’s healthcare system, supporters say.

The Institute for Canadian Citizenship, which helps newcomers and people seeking citizenship, estimates that there are thousands of foreign-trained physicians whose qualifications have given them the fast track to Canadian citizenship, but provincial regulators are refusing to recognize theirs to recognize testimonials.

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The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia proposed the new role of Associated Physician in April 2020 to meet the health needs of the province and to allow doctors who were not entitled to a full license to work under medical supervision.

The plan would help address the shortage of doctors, leverage the expertise of internationally trained doctors, and bring healthcare to more people.

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But no doctor has yet received the title, and the college says the pandemic is behind the delay because of the way it’s impacted surgeries.

“This program was supposed to start at the beginning of the pandemic, but most of the target areas were in the surgical disciplines, and COVID has wiped out much of the surgical capacity, so we haven’t licensed any yet,” said Dr. Heidi Oetter, the registrar at the college.

“Once we can get the program up and running, I think we should see dozens of them entering the healthcare system in British Columbia.”

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dr Harry Tabrizi, an ear, nose and throat surgeon who practiced medicine in Iran for more than a decade before emigrating to Canada in 2012, works as a hearing care professional in Surrey. Despite his efforts to become accredited, he said he has not heard of the associate doctor role.

“Since I immigrated I have struggled and wanted to work in healthcare and we have a shortage of doctors. In an advanced Western country with such a great history and such an established system, I’m not sure what’s stopping me from helping people,” he said. “I am unfamiliar with the Associate Physician classification but would like more information on how to apply.”

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The President of Physicians of BC, Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh, agrees the role could help fill gaps and address the doctor shortage. However, when a new position is added, a defined scope of work is essential to minimize confusion about roles and ensure quality of care.

The Department of Health said classification as an associate doctor is part of its plan. It has also broadened the scope for nurses and increased funding to train more of them to address the doctor shortage, a statement said.

“Because this is a brand new classification, establishing associate physicians in BC requires extensive planning with partners to ensure proper and safe integration with health authorities,” it said.

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The college said health officials are working to set up programs, but until then it’s not sure how many associate doctor positions will be filled.

dr Vahid Nilforushan, an anesthetist who practiced in Iran for 13 years before immigrating to Vancouver in 2010, said he was skeptical the role was a viable solution for doctors like him.

“It could help with health care in BC, but it seems very unlikely that many (international medical graduates) will get a job,” he said. “We still want to work as doctors, but we’d rather work as residents, be taxi drivers and work in retail.”

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Foreign doctors willing to help are being “squeezed out” by regulation, says one expert

To practice medicine in Canada, doctors must have a recognized medical degree and pass proficiency tests. Canadians and permanent residents who attended international medical school have lobbied provincial governments to change the requirements that prevent the majority of them from obtaining residency permits, the apprenticeship places needed before they can work independently .

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

“Even if they have passed all their exams and are technically certified, they still need a residence permit, and the biggest obstacle is that the provinces do not make these places available for foreign-trained doctors,” said Daniel Bernhard, CEO of the Institute for Canadian citizenship. “It’s just completely stacked against them.”

In May 2021, the Institute launched a campaign using the hashtag #EqualChance, demanding a universal standard for doctors.

“The greatest insult is to the patients and the public, and the disfellowshipped doctors will be the first to tell you that,” Bernhard said. “This health deficiency that everyone is fixated on is not real. The qualified workers are there.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press The pandemic is blocking BC’s associate doctor’s plan

Joel McCord

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