Are Canadian Hospitals Scrambling from The Saudi Backlash?

Saudi Medical Students

Canadian hospitals are seeing some of their Saudi Arabian medical graduates withdrawing from their clinical duties ahead of an impending August 31st deadline. This has left hospitals scrambling to quickly fill in the gaps they are leaving behind.

These early departures are the latest in an overwhelmingly chaotic situation which have had (and will continue to have) a destabilizing effect on several vital parts of the healthcare system in Canada.

There isn’t (yet) an exact number on how many Saudi medical trainees are requesting leave ahead of the deadline. What is certain, however, is that many more will be leaving their positions, so they can prepare to return to their country.

Over a thousand medical graduates from Saudi Arabi have been working at Canadian teaching hospitals for their post-schooling internships. They will all need to leave the country now by the end of August. This quickly approaching, and life altering decision is a result between diplomatic disputes occurring between Canada and the Middle East.

The Saudi Arabian-Canada Training Program

A training program has long been in place which allowed these same Saudi Arabian graduates to train in teaching hospitals throughout Canada. The hospitals are given around $100K in fees for each medical trainee. In return, Canada gets medical practitioners to provide tax-free care to residents while the trainees get valuable experience.

What Happened?

The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, publicly called out the Middle East in early August. The call out was a request to released human rights advocates who had been jailed for their efforts. It did not take long to get a response.

Saudi Arabia responded to the request by suspending all diplomatic relationships with Canada. Freeland was expelled, and all direct flights between the two nations were cancelled. Saudi Arabia also publicly ended the medical program and has said it will no longer purchase neither wheat or barley from Canada.

These are not definite, however, because negotiations are still ongoing. There is a small chance that the medical trainees will be allowed to stay and finish their residencies in Canadian training hospitals – even if future students are not allowed to participate.

The Real Impact – By Numbers

The Saudi Arabia residents make up a considerable amount of the workforce in many training hospitals throughout Canada. The numbers listed in the paragraphs below represent the number of these resident’s pre-disagreement. Since disputes began between the two countries, numbers have continued to drop as residents make plans to return home.

In Toronto hospitals, 216 residents from Saudi Arabia made up roughly six percent of the city’s total residents. An incredible fifteen percent of Hamilton’s medical workforce was comprised of these residents. In certain areas these trainees make up a third to half of entire wards. Most notably these include the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units (NICU).

As of right now, the only way for hospitals to move forward is to find which areas now lack personnel and work towards filling in those gaps.