It is not known exactly how many foreign doctors have come to Ontario with dreams of becoming licensed physicians, but HealthForceOntario, which provides service to those doctors, estimates that since 2007 there have been more than 15,000.
Last year, Ontario’s six medical schools chose just 70 of them to become residents. While foreign doctors face long odds of practising medicine in Ontario, the federal government has made it easier for them to immigrate here.
Doctors come to Canada from across the globe with many different specialties: oncology, heart surgery, pediatrics, family medicine, radiology, ophthalmology, pathology, critical care medicine and internal medicine to name a few.
Despite the background of foreign trained doctors, it has always been tough for foreign doctors to pass the medical licensing examinations. Stories of doctors driving cabs are more than urban legend. But in recent years, it’s gone from bad to worse. Foreign doctors are elbowed out of the way by an unlikely group: Canadians who get rejected by medical schools here, go abroad to study in places such as the Caribbean, then apply for residency in Ontario.
In just eight years, the number of Canadians seeking to return has grown to 800 from about 250. In 2014, they took two-thirds of the 200 or so residency positions Ontario funds for international medical grads.
A 2011 Ontario health ministry-funded report found some residency programs nixed the applications of foreign doctors because they graduated from medical school too long ago, and didn’t consider their vast amounts of clinical experience in their own private practices.
Foreign doctors may now indicate on their applications their most recent clinical experience, but it’s unclear how that’s weighed by those who oversee selection of residents at Canada’s 17 medical schools.
Ontario’s health ministry defended the application process, while acknowledging that improvements are being planned.