May 10, 2011
In what Health Minister Deb Matthews is hailing as a “reverse brain drain,” Ontario licensed a record 3,708 doctors last year — 41 per cent of them from other countries.
Ten years ago, 28 per cent of licences went to international grads.
As a result, 94 per cent of Ontarians now have access to their own doctor and a growing number of physicians understand the cultures of their patients, said Matthews.
“We’re still concerned about that 6 per cent without access to primary health care, but we know where they are — the north is one challenge — and we’re working to get them access.”
A report to be released Tuesday by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario links the rise in licensed foreign-trained doctors here to more overseas recruiting, more openings for international medical graduates to do their residency in Ontario hospitals and more mentors to help them adjust.
“We’ve reversed the brain drain,” said Matthews. “Long ago we were losing trained doctors to other countries, but recent figures show that 174 more doctors came to Ontario in 2009 than left.”
The report, obtained by the Star, shows Ontario licensed 1,522 doctors who were trained abroad and 1,380 who were trained in Ontario — the seventh straight year more licences were issued to international doctors than home-grown talent. Another 716 doctors from other provinces were licensed in Ontario, and 90 from the United States.
The climb in licences has been steady: 3,638 in 2009, 3,467 in 2008, 3,279 in 2007 — up from 2,747 in 2005 and 1,637 in 1997.
“We know there has been a shortage of doctors in Ontario and we have to walk a fine line between getting more of them on the front line without lowering our standards,” said Dr. Lynne Thurling, president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
General practitioners are still in demand in many small towns and rural areas, noted Thurling, who practises psychiatry in Fergus, Ont.
Some estimate Ontario needs another 1,000 to 2,000 doctors, although the McGuinty government claims 1.2 million more people have access to a doctor now than before it came to power in 2003.
Mitra Arjang is an Iranian-trained surgeon who has been unable to land a residency spot in Ontario. It is still too hard for foreign doctors to get the green light to practise, she said, adding there should be more chances to train under a supervisor in a “restricted” residency.
“We have at least 7,500 internationally trained doctors in Ontario but less than 200 can get residency spots because they have to compete with young Canadians who are more familiar with the language and the system.”
American pediatrician Dr. Francesco Mulé relocated to Ontario from New York City last summer partly because he wanted to be part of a universal health care system. For his first year he must work on a “restricted licence” under a mentor and supervisor while he learns the ropes of the emergency department at Northumberland Hills Hospital in Cobourg.
“The standard of care we provide in Ontario is very top shelf. There’s this sense in the U.S. that Canadian health care is not really universal or of a very high standard — and (Americans have) been duped.”