A small step towards reducing doctor shortages

In a province with a severe physician shortage, it is somewhat surprising that only 35 per cent of foreign-trained doctors who pass the exams required to practice medicine in Quebec are granted residency positions.

Last week, however, Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc took an important step in addressing this issue when he announced that the province will reserve 65 residency spots per year for foreign-trained doctors. A successful residency in a Canadian hospital is a requirement for foreign doctors to receive a license to practice medicine in this country, yet 94 residency positions in Quebec were left vacant last year. The province also announced that they will fund a six-month retraining program in basic medicine for those whose residency applications are unsuccessful.

While we acknowledge that these changes will not resolve Quebec’s physician shortages entirely, any effort that can help the many people living in Quebec who hold medical degrees to begin practicing is a welcome one. With thousands of Quebecers lacking a primary care physician, it makes no sense that so many residency positions were left vacant last year – especially when foreign doctors who have passed the required exams are available to fill these positions. Ontario, for example, accepted more than three times as many foreign graduates into residency programs last year than Quebec.

The issue is likely to become even more acute in the near future, especially if the current trend of Canadian students attending offshore medical schools continues. The Canadian Medical Association estimated in 2007 that there were 1,500 of these students. Those who wish to return to Canada to practice medicine will face the same process that has currently left 300 foreign-trained physicians in Quebec unable to find jobs.

The Canada Health Act, which forms the basis of the country’s health care system, includes equal access to medical care as one of its main principles. While the provincial government’s recent announcements are an important but relatively inexpensive step in addressing the issue, making equal access a reality for Quebec residents who lack a family physician will take much more than 65 new foreign-trained doctors.

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