Foreign physicians struggling to find work Print E-mail

Hermione Wilson, Humber Et Cetera

Published: April 5, 2013

Two years ago, Dr. Balvinder Singh had a successful medical practice in India. Now, at age 45, he is vying for a clinical research internship position with classmates half his age at Humber.

Before Singh came to Canada in 2011 with his wife and two children, he was a pediatrician who had been practicing medicine for 12 years. He had an established practice in Hoshiarpur, India, and was well respected in the community.

"I was the only doctor who used to cater to those newborns there," he said.

Over time, Singh became increasingly uncomfortable with corruption he detected in the system. He said he was doing well in his field but he saw that in order to remain at the top, there would be a price to pay.

"I wanted to do a very clean, ethical practice," said Singh. He decided to close down his hospital and leave that life behind him to seek a new one in Canada.

The immigration process went easily. Singh's application was fast tracked because of his medical experience. After a few years getting settled and helping his wife find a job in nursing, Singh began to research what job might be a good fit for him.

What he discovered was that even if he were to take the Medical Council of Canada evaluating exam, he would still be competing with thousands of other medical graduates for a limited number of residency positions.

A residency is a period of post-graduate medical training that takes place at a medical institution. Residencies typically last two years for medical students training in family medicine and three or more years for other specialties.

"There are only so many positions in the province and at each medical school for the different disciplines," said Kathryn Clarke, a media relations representative for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

According to Sandra Banner, CEO of the Canadian Resident Matching Service, there are about 300 residency positions earmarked for international medical graduates (IMGs) on a national level. Approximately 2,700 IMGs applied for residency positions this year, said Banner, but around 600 or 700 later withdrew their applications.

There are 200 residency positions for IMGs in Ontario, said Clarke, compared to the 24 positions available in the late 1990s.

Following the completion of the residency, physicians still have to pass the two-part Medical Council of Canada qualifying examination.

The medical council's website states it costs $1,645 to take the initial evaluating examination, $920 for the first part of the qualifying exam, and $2,190 for the second.

"People with 10 years, 20 years of experience in medicine, [and] have passed the exams, are just waiting in line to get through the door," said Izumi Sakamoto, an associate professor at University of Toronto's faculty of social work.

Sakamoto has done extensive research on the role of Canadian experience in immigrant labour market participation. The problem, she says, is that Immigration Canada and the various provincial medical regulatory bodies are not on the same page.

"These regulatory bodies have different regulations, so people who had enough credentials to get to Canada [under] standards set up by Citizenship and Immigration Canada may not have enough credentials to pass through the regulatory bodies' standards," she said.

"You have so many qualified doctors who have got good experience . . . they have cleared their examinations, but since you don't increase the number of residency spots, there is no [point] in calling them [to Canada]," said Singh.

"Once your equivalency exams are over, still you are useless because you cannot touch a patient . . . you're not given the opportunity to prove [yourself]."

Singh decided not to sit the evaluating exam and instead looked for a job in another field.

He considered trucking — he even graduated with honours from a trucking course through Humber College — but realized the work would force him to spend a lot of time away from his family. He eventually found employment as a security guard with Intercon Security and was posted at the Rogers Centre.

Around this time he learned about the three-semester clinical research program at Humber North and decided to apply. He is now in his second semester and has applied for an internship next fall.

"They are looking for . . . young candidates," said Singh of the over 25 companies he has applied to. There used to be other mature students in the class, other international medical graduates like himself, but they are gone now. One man, who was a doctor in India, returned home.

"They didn't find it . . . glamorous to persist in this course," Singh said. "But I decided once and for all that I'm not going to go back."

Source: Humber Et Cetera