Canada must add more medical resident training positions

Posted on in Health Delivery System

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
Sept. 3, 2018.   By

The Canadian health-care system has become too reliant on foreign-funded medical trainees. Over the years, Canadian universities have received large amounts of funding to train physicians while getting free labour. This has resulted in difficult situations for Canadian citizens who trained abroad (called international medical graduates) since teaching space is limited.

Historically, it has been a difficult and gruelling process for international medical grads to secure a residency training position in Canada. In 2017-18, there were 2,980 Canadian applicants for 2,974 positions and 1,758 international medical grads for 343 positions. This means that 80 per cent of applicants from the international stream went unmatched, therefore unemployed, compare to one per cent from the Canadian stream.

The Ministry of Health claims that more doctors are needed. But funds to create residency training positions for Canadian international medical grads are absent.

Enter a foreign nation with deep pockets, funding its own trainees in Canadian universities. Canada welcomed foreign trained residents as free labour for hospitals, delighted when their countries paid astronomical fees of $100,000 per resident per year to their respective universities.

These foreign medical graduates did not have to compete with Canadians; instead, they applied directly to their desired program. This gave them an advantage in many desired specialties that are considered highly competitive. It also meant they occupied a teaching space that could otherwise have been made available to a Canadian, who would remain in Canada after his or her training.

The recent disagreement between Canada and Saudi Arabia resulted in the latter’s demand to withdraw their approximately 1,000 medical residents from Canada. This means the Canadian health-care/universities system will lose $100,000 per year per student, for a total of about $100 million per year.

The sudden removal of these Saudi Arabian residents from hospitals will devastate patient care. The remaining staff doctors, already overwhelmed, will have to pick up more shifts and increase their unforgiving patient load. Recent studies have shown that Canadian resident physicians are overworked, resulting in premature burnout and even suicide. How will an overworked hospital deal with the removal of core staff?

Furthermore, the extra money that has flowed into Canada’s health-care system from Saudi-financed residents has not benefited Canadians. Canadians who graduated from Canada or abroad are not benefiting from more training spots, or new monies in the health-care coffers. Nor does the Canadian public receive the benefit of more trained physicians or lower wait times, as these foreign-sponsored doctors return to their home countries after their training is complete.

With our institutions filled with foreign physicians who are paying to be there, albeit temporarily, Canada has not felt the urgency to address its doctor shortage.

More must be done to add resident training positions for Canadians who study here or abroad. Our system relies not only on doctors from Saudi Arabia, but also Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait. If they were all to withdraw their physicians, how could we guarantee the safety of our patients?

We need to be more self-reliant for our patients and for our doctors.

Dr. Ali Elgheriani is a family and emergency physician at the Minnedosa Health Centre in Minnedosa, Man.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/09/03/canada-must-add-more-medical-resident-training-positions.html

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