B.C. triples number of training spots for foreign-trained doctors

B.C. triples number of training spots for foreign-trained doctors

VANCOUVER (CP) - British Columbia's dubious distinction as the province with the lowest number of training spots for foreign-trained doctors in Canada improved Friday as the Liberal government added 12 residency positions to allow more immigrant physicians to practise here.

All provinces require doctors trained outside Canada to complete written and oral English tests and medical exams before they qualify for a residency program to ensure their skills meet national standards.

Health Services Minister George Abbott told reporters after Friday's announcement that tripling the number of training spots to 18 from six is a good start for a province that had only two positions for international graduates in the 1990s.

'The other thing that we will continue to do is work with other provinces and the federal government to ensure that if there are residency spaces elsewhere in the nation that haven't been filled that maybe we can develop some co-operative program,' Abbott said.

Despite passing their tests, some international medical graduates in B.C. have resorted to delivering pizza and driving cabs because they haven't been able to get their medical licence.

Dr. Alfredo Turo, president of the Association of International Medical Doctors of B.C., said he did his medical training in Italy and will be able to enter a residency program next July after several years of trying to practise.

The issue of foreign-trained doctors' frustration in getting their licences became an election issue last spring in a province where some patients spend months trying to find a family doctor.

NDP health critic David Cubberley said B.C. still falls behind Alberta, which has 28 spots for foreign-trained doctors and a lower number of residents.

'Why would we have fewer than Alberta, given the scale of need?' Cubberley said.

Dr. Jack Burak, past president of the B.C. Medical Association, said increasing the number of residency positions from six to 18 positions is 'a tiny, baby step in the right direction.

'Quite frankly, if we had double or triple the 18 spots we might be getting a little closer to realistically addressing the physician supply shortage in B.C.'

Patrick Coady, executive director of the association, said that while B.C. has had the lowest number of residency positions for foreign-trained doctors, the province has attracted the second-highest number of international medical graduates, after Ontario.

Compared to B.C., Ontario provides 200 residency positions for foreign-trained doctors for every 100,000 residents, he said. Alberta has 28 such spots and Manitoba provides 10 such positions.

'B.C. traditionally has been extremely successful at poaching doctors from other provinces over the last three decades,' Coady said. 'So Saskatchewan would pay for a doctor and then he would move to Vancouver and work here.'

While an increase in the number of residency spaces helps patients who are in need of doctors it also makes economic sense, he said.

'Financially it's a windfall for (B.C.). The province doesn't have to pay for their education. All they have to do is take a look at assessing their skills.'

It costs B.C. taxpayers almost $1 million to put a medical graduate through six years of school while foreign-trained doctors arrive here with their credentials and cost much less to put through a residency program, Coady said.

'Economically it's what we should be doing,' he said. 'Ethically it's what we should be doing. These people decided to come here, have the skills and are willing to contribute. That will only assist us when these doctors are working as doctors and not as labourers or as pizza delivery people.'

Foreign-trained doctors, most of them from India, China, the Philippines, Iran, eastern Europe and Russia, also have a second language and the cultural knowledge to deal with immigrant patients, Coady said.

The desperation of foreign-trained doctors led several to hold hunger strikes in the 1990s.

Coady said health-care stakeholders, including the Health Ministry and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., which regulates doctors' licences, has finally started to take international medical graduates' concerns seriously.

'We're pretty excited about this step today, I'll tell you.'

The Canadian Press, 2005