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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

International medical grads key to solving doctor shortage: report

By Roger Ward
Canadian Press

Hiring international medical graduates is a key to solving a doctor shortage in Ontario that has reached "unprecedented proportions," says a report by the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

That view from the body that regulates doctors in Ontario drew swift approval from Health Minister George Smitherman. He said the province is also pushing to hire more foreign-trained doctors.

"It's one more voice that rings pretty similarly to ours," he said of the 19-page report released earlier this month.

800 international graduates

The report said that over the past five years the college has registered 800 international medical graduates to work as doctors in the province, but there needs to be more.

"Decisive action is needed now to increase the number of physicians in Ontario," said Dr. Barry Adams, an Ottawa pediatrician and president of the college.

"We want to continue to reduce barriers to the recruitment, registration, training and education of doctors in this province."

But Adams added that does not mean the college would tolerate a watering down of its stringent standards.

"We will look at everybody out there that says they are a doctor, but we will not lower the standards we require of our own graduates to deliver excellent health care to the people of Ontario," he said.

Ontario has hundreds of physicians who have immigrated to the province and hold medical degrees from schools outside Canada and the United States, but they're not able to practice here unless they are assessed and trained.

One organization that performs that task is the Ontario International Medical Graduate Clearing House.

It's executive director, Brad Sinclair, said his organization puts 200 foreign doctors a year into the system.

"Could we do more? I suspect we could, but it's a question of resources and the actual capacity to assess these people," he said.

One University of Ottawa medical student who graduates this month expressed misgivings about foreign doctors being streamed into an already competitive system.

"I think it could be a problem, especially in certain specialities," said Paul Hong, who plans to specialize in ear, nose and throat medicine. "Some specialities and sub-specialities are very competitive for the Canadian graduates, and if the foreign doctors are competing with us certainly it will be more difficult for us."

On the other hand, Hong noted, once the specialities are filled there are still family doctor positions that are open and he saw a place for foreign doctors there.

"We need more family doctors, but there aren't enough young trainees who are interested in that."

Pilot project

The report also suggests that the college set up a program where international graduates can gain experience by observing the work of Ontario physicians, and that the province facilitate liability insurance funding for physician assistants.

Other recommendations include creating a health human resources planning body, and setting up a pilot program that would allow post-graduate students to provide medical services beyond their education training programs.

The report didn't give figures on the doctor shortage, but the provincial Health Ministry has said Ontario is in last place among the provinces in terms of access to family doctors per capita.

The ministry says Ontario needs nearly 2,000 more doctors, and that 133 communities are underserviced.

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