To Quell Canada’s Doctor Shortage, Look Overseas

By Sandra Banner
May 19, 2018

Patients in British Columbia will need more patience in the coming years. They already face long wait times for medical care due to a severe doctor shortage. Those wait times will soon lengthen. That’s because four in ten physicians are at or approaching the average retirement age, according to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.[1]

This shortage isn’t limited to British Columbia. Nationwide, Canadians are struggling to access physicians. International medical graduates can help solve the doctor shortage.

Canada only has two practicing physicians per 1,000 people.[2] Out of 34 OECD countries, that ranks Canada at number 26.[3]

The shortage is particularly severe in primary care fields. Nationwide, more than 4.5 million Canadians — or 15 percent of the population — don’t have a regular doctor.[4]

Rural areas also hit hard by this shortage. Twenty percent of Canadians live in such regions, yet less than 10 percent of physicians practice there. A paltry 2 percent of specialists serve these communities.[5]

A shortage of physicians means long wait times for patients. Patients now wait more than 21 weeks to see a specialist after receiving a referral from a general practitioner. That’s the longest wait in Canadian history.[6]

Long wait times aren’t just inconvenient. They can result in prolonged pain, poorer medical outcomes, and even permanent disabilities.[7]

International medical schools can prevent such suffering. St. George’s University, for example, has trained more than 1,300 Canadian doctors.[8] Three-quarters of our students go into primary care.[9] And we encourage students to practice in underserved areas.

In fact, many international medical graduates are originally from Canada. Here at SGU, 600 Canadian students are currently pursuing their medical degrees.[10]

These students dream of returning home to serve their communities. According to a study from the Canadian Resident Matching Service, 90 percent of Canadian IMGs want to practice medicine in Canada.[11]

But there aren’t enough residency spots for them in Canada.[12] As a result, many qualified, hard-working Canadian grads complete their residencies and pursue careers in the United States instead.

It’s time for Canada to look abroad to solve its doctor shortage. International medical graduates are eager to serve the most vulnerable Canadians.

 

[1] https://vancouverisland.ctvnews.ca/b-c-doctor-shortage-to-worsen-as-more-physicians-near-retirement-study-1.3717312; http://www.cmaj.ca/sites/default/files/additional-assets/site/pdfs/pr/cmaj.170231.pdf

[2] https://www.cma.ca/En/Pages/basic-physician-facts.aspx

[3] https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/physician-shortage-problem-in-canada-from-1980-to-2015-2329-9126-1000e112.php?aid=83877

[4] http://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/opinion-medical-schools-can-solve-canadas-rural-doctor-shortage

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4075100/

[6] https://www.fraserinstitute.org/studies/waiting-your-turn-wait-times-for-health-care-in-canada-2017

[7] https://www.fraserinstitute.org/studies/waiting-your-turn-wait-times-for-health-care-in-canada-2017

[8] http://www.sgu.edu/news-and-events/banner-addressing-canadas-rural-doctor-shortage/

[9] http://www.sgu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/som-catalogue.pdf

[10] http://www.sgu.edu/landing/canada/

[11] https://www.carms.ca/pdfs/2010_CSA_Report/CaRMS_2010_CSA_Report.pdf

[12] https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/04/17/official-data-confirms-more-canadian-medical-grads-are-without-residency-positions-than-ever-before.html

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