Canadians who study abroad taking residency spots from immigrant doctors

posted on May 22, 2015

By Toronto Sun | Link to Article

If he leaves the safety of this southern Ontario city for the violence of Baghdad, Anmar Almukhtar knows he may be killed.

By Toronto Sun | Link to Article

If he leaves the safety of this southern Ontario city for the violence of Baghdad, Anmar Almukhtar knows he may be killed.

But 15 months after he came to Canada to seek a better life for his children, the 45-year-old is tempted to return to his homeland. His thriving career as a heart surgeon in Iraq has been crushed here under the weight of broken promises, questionable rules and absentee oversight.

“I’m like a fish: I can’t live outside the hospital. I’m missing the (surgical) theatre, the white coat…I will lose my skilled hands,” he said.

No one tracks precisely how many foreign doctors have come to Ontario with dreams of becoming licensed physicians, but HealthForceOntario, which provides service to those doctors, estimates that since 2007 there’s been more than 15,000.

Last year, Ontario’s six medical schools chose just 70 of them to become residents — a mountain of an obstacle on what is the only path for most of them to become doctors.

While foreign docs face long odds of practising medicine in Ontario, the federal government has made it easier for them to immigrate here.

The lure is difficult to resist. That’s evident from the foreign doctors who gathered a week ago in a Goodwill community room in London to support each other and discuss solutions. They came here from across the globe with many different skills: an oncologist, heart surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, pediatrician, family doctor, respirologist, radiologist, ophthalmologist, pathologist, critical care doctors and internists.

Most are confused.

“We love London. Why can’t we participate in a place that struggles with a shortage of physicians?” asked Mohamed Hussein, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hand surgery but also replaced knees and hips in his native Egypt.

Had he known the odds were so bad, Hussein says he never would have come to Ontario.

“It’s very difficult to share with them the reality of how competitive it is in Ontario,” HealthForceOntario’s Wayne Oake said.

It’s always been tough for foreign doctors to get a medical licence. Stories of doctors driving cabs are more than urban legend. But in recent years, it’s gone from bad to worse. Foreign doctors are elbowed out of the way by a group you might not consider international at all: Canadians who get rejected by medical schools here, go abroad to study in places such as the Caribbean, then apply for residency in Ontario.

In just eight years, the number of Canadians seeking to return has grown to 800 from about 250. Last year they took two-thirds of the 200 or so residency slots Ontario funds for international medical grads.

A 2011 Ontario health ministry-funded report found some residency programs nixed the applications of foreign doctors because they graduated from medical school too long ago, and didn’t consider their vast amounts of clinical experience in their own private practices.

Foreign doctors may now note on applications their most recent clinical experience, but it’s unclear how that’s weighed by the those who oversee selection of residents at Canada’s 17 medical schools.

Ontario’s health ministry defended the application process, saying some improvements have been made and others are in the works.

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