Doctors’ cozy club limits our health care system

Canada doesn’t have a shortage of doctors; we have a closed shop that prevents foreign-trained doctors from practicing. The medical establishment prevents them from relieving our doctor shortage.

Image Stat News

About 5 million Canadians don’t have a regular family doctor. As a result, hospital wait times continue to grow. One study revealed that Canada has fewer physicians per capita than comparable nations: 2.7 per 1,000 people.

That puts us at 26th in countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

It’s not a lack of trying from foreign-trained doctors. They spend thousands of dollars to become certified as doctors.

To become licensed in Canada involves verifying one’s medical degree and previous practical experience, passing a language-proficiency test, and completing a Canadian medical residency or practicum. This can take up to a decade to complete and can cost as much as $28,000, including lost income from when they could be working.

Despite the effort, about one-half of the 1,000 doctors who immigrate to Canada every year abandon their medical careers (Walrus, May, 2021).

Doctors are retiring at an alarming rate. By 2026, 20 percent of Canada’s doctors will be 65 or older, according to the Canadian Medical Association.

The medical establishment ensures that Canada is short of doctors. The number of residencies for foreign-trained doctors is limited. And even when a foreign-trained doctor gets one of the rare positions, the chances of getting a license is low. Last year, Ontario had licensed only about two dozen spots — a negligible sum in a province with 31,500 practising physicians. British Columbia licensed zero.

The method of determining the number of residency positions is arcane. According to the Canadian Federation of Medical Students, “Provincial and territorial Ministries of Health determine the total number of residency positions available, the specialties in which they are available, and the proportion open to CMGs [Canadian medical graduates] versus [foreign-trained doctors].”

Investigative reporter for the Walrus, Jagdeesh Mann, attempted to find out how the quotas are calculated in B.C.:

“But attempting to understand how exactly quotas are calculated each year in B.C., for example, proved to be Kafkaesque. Starting from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., I was redirected to CaRMS and the University of British Columbia, then to the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, and finally to B.C.’s Ministry of Health.”

Meanwhile, the already limited number of residency spots granted to foreign-trained doctors has declined since 2013.

The problem is about to get worse. By 2026, 20 percent of Canada’s doctors will be 65 or older, according to the Canadian Medical Association. Many doctors will be retiring soon.

When my doctor retired two years ago, I went without a doctor for over a year. I only got one after a referral from a friend.

The medical establishment is racist. Of the residencies that did go to foreign-trained doctors, most went to doctors from Europe. Only 15 percent went to those from Asia and another 15 percent to Africa. This, despite the fact that many immigrants would like to have doctors who are familiar with their customs and language.

Doctors hold a lot of power in determining the number of residencies. A doctor shortage ensures that they are in demand but they could loosen their grip on the number of foreign-trained doctors without damaging their fragile egos.