Foreign Medical Trainees Leaving Canadians Out

Foreign medical trainees leaving Canadians out

Kathy Tomlinson, CTV News

The government of Saudi Arabia sent him here to become a top-notch trauma surgeon, all expenses paid. When Dr. Khaled Al-Ahmadi finishes his three years of Canadian hospital training, he will go home and take his badly-needed skills with him. Buying extra training in Canada is Saudi Arabia's way of trying to fix their doctor shortage.

“The need for doctors is growing there (Saudi Arabia). The need is really growing I mean the number of Saudi doctors is still low,” said Dr. Al-Ahmadi.

Since the late 1970s, Canadian medical schools have been selling an increasing number of hospital residency positions to foreign countries, primarily Saudi Arabia. The medical schools charge about $40,000 a year for each spot, enough to cover the training expenses.

Six hundred Saudi Arabian doctors are now getting their residency training in the Canadian system, along with some 300 from other countries. That represents about 10 per cent of all residency spots.

“I'm grateful for Saudi Arabia and I feel grateful for Canada,” said Dr. Al-Ahmadi, “Here I learn, I practice and I serve the (Canadian) community at the same time.”

Because of the severe doctor shortage in Canada, though, some doctors are starting to object.

“We have failed to provide our own system with the capacity to train our own medical graduates,” says Dr. Alex Chochinov, an emergency room doctor in Winnipeg, “I look forward to the day when governments supply medical faculties with the funds and the resources necessary to provide training for a sufficient number of Canadians so we can look to other countries and say we don't need your trainees.”

The Canadian Medical Association says the system needs about the same number of new Canadian residency spots as what the foreigners are buying. Plus, the CMA says, the medical schools need more funding, to produce the doctors to take that training.

“First of all there needs to be more Canadian medical graduates,” said Dr. Chochinov, “Second of all, once having established an ideal number of medical school graduates we need to establish the optimum number of residency positions.”

“We would like to fill up that teaching resource with Canadian graduates so we can produce Canadian specialists and generalists to serve the Canadian population,” he said.

“That issue is dictated by the provincial governments not the medical schools, ” said Dr. David Hawkins, of the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, “If the provincial governments wanted to train more Canadians they could simply open up and fund slots to train them.”

Ontario's Minister of Health, George Smitherman, sees no problem with selling residency spots to foreign countries. In fact, he thinks it's a great idea.

“I'm one of those in Ontario that thinks that's something we should celebrate that our public institutions, in this case post-secondary education can become very forceful players,” said Smitherman. “I think it's very appropriate that we would be in a position to use our post-secondary institutions to play a role that is international in scale.”

Dr. Chochinov believes his patients are paying too high a price for that international prestige, and the provinces should fix the shortage at home first.

“The symptoms people see is they can't get a family doctor and they can't access care.”