Remove barriers to foreign-trained – comment/editorial – Remove barriers to foreign-trained
June 29, 2008

With more than 850,000 Ontarians still without a family doctor, it makes good sense to take a hard look at barriers that stand in the way of qualified foreign-trained physicians and medical graduates who want to practise here.

That’s exactly what Liberal MPP Laurel Broten did earlier this month in a report that recommends reforms aimed at allowing some foreign-trained doctors to become licensed more quickly, and cutting red tape for those who require more assessment or training.

The report proposes fast-tracking licences for full-fledged doctors already working elsewhere in Canada, the United States and other countries with comparable health-care systems, with the goal of allowing them to practise here almost immediately. That makes sense. Forcing highly trained doctors to jump through hoops before they can work here puts Ontario at a competitive disadvantage.

Broten also wants to help doctors from outside this select group. She proposes issuing transitional licences to allow foreign-trained physicians who do not qualify for fast-tracking to start practising under supervision. This category would allow doctors from countries where medical training differs from Ontario’s to have their skills assessed, while avoiding lengthy residency requirements.

Finally, Broten recommends faster assessments, better orientation and mentoring, and cultural and language help for all foreign-trained physicians and medical-school graduates who seek to practise here. She also rightly recognizes that not all foreign-trained doctors will be able to meet Ontario’s high standards, and she proposes helping them qualify for other jobs in the health-care system.

This is not the first time the province has turned its attention to doctors trained abroad. The McGuinty government has more than doubled the number of residency spots set aside for them, from 90 to 200 a year. But Ontario’s physician shortage calls for bolder action.

George Smitherman ended his tenure as health minister in mid-June by introducing a bill that would require the colleges overseeing the 23 regulated health professions “to ensure, as a matter of public interest, that the people of Ontario have access to adequate numbers of qualified, skilled and competent regulated health professionals.” But it’s unclear what the practical effect of this bill will be.

The real heavy lifting will happen this summer when the government starts working with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to hammer out regulations aimed at giving life to Broten’s sensible proposals.

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