Blog Author: Drew Thompson, MD Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 14:28
Around the world, more than 500 talented young British Columbians are studying at fully accredited medical schools in places such as Britain, Ireland, and Australia. Each year, 80 to 100 of them graduate with dreams of returning home to BC to become doctors and serve their communities. Unfortunately, due to provincial government policies and bureaucratic hurdles that discriminate against them, only a select few will return home to train here and become part of British Columbia’s health care system.
And despite having a health care system that faces a critical shortage of doctors, long surgery wait times, emergency room closures, and compromised patient care, the government is standing by those policies and choosing instead to not accept these trained BC doctors who have saved the government of BC millions of dollars by paying for their own education. They should be welcomed with open arms.
Each year, many students apply to enter the University of British Columbia’s medical school, the school which trains doctors on behalf of the province of BC. With just under 300 spots available, many BC students choose to attend medical school abroad.
Once they graduate, to become doctors, they must complete 2 to 6 years of postgraduate training in teaching facilities across the province, also administered by UBC. The Ministry of Health reserves nearly 300 residencies for Canadians and Americans who graduated from North American medical schools.
Students from BC who graduated from foreign medical schools can only compete for a residency here by first winning a spot in UBC's International Medical Graduates program, a program tailored mainly for immigrants, which provides access to only 26 residencies. To make matters worse, exams to qualify for these positions are only offered long after the regular residency positions have been given out.
While this program is an important one for immigrant doctors coming to BC, it fails BC graduates from foreign schools and forces them to choose between waiting an extra year, in hopes of maybe landing a restricted residency here, or working immediately in another jurisdiction. The reality is, we know of no British Columbian graduates from abroad who have been accepted and graduated from this program.
Despite annual throne speech promises to address the problem, nothing has been done. Instead, the province continues to actively recruit foreign-born doctors who graduated from the same schools our BC students attended, as well as doctors from countries that face their own physician shortages.
The simple and virtually cost-free solution is to offer qualifying exams more often or earlier, increase residency positions, or let British Columbians who studied abroad compete for UBC training residencies at the same time as graduates from North American schools.
All they’re asking for is to compete on a level playing field for residency positions. With hundreds of BC physicians set to retire in the next few years, the discriminatory policies that treat BC graduates from foreign medical schools as second-class citizens must stop now.
The good news is that, while their home province is turning them away, other provinces, US states, and countries around the world are eagerly recruiting them.
At the latest Union of BC Municipalities convention, mayors from across BC said they were prepared to commit financial support to help fund the cost of residencies so British Columbians could come back home to train and work in their communities.
When British Columbians consider the state of their financially unsustainable health care system, the question they should ask their MLAs, the minister of health, the premier, and the University of British Columbia, is not “Why don’t we have enough doctors?” but “Why won’t you let our children come home to become doctors in the communities that need them?”
Dr Thompson is president of the Society for Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad, a group of parents, families, and supporters of BC students studying medicine abroad.