Are Canadian Medical Students Studying Abroad Finding Residencies More Difficult?

Canadian Medical Students Studying Abroad

A Supreme Court case has been filed, alleging that Canadian residents who have graduated from medical schools abroad (outside the US or Canada) are finding it difficult to obtain residencies. This, of course, places a large hurtle in the path of these students towards their chosen profession.

Since these students are unable to obtain residencies, they have been forced to work in other fields while pursuing potential programs. One court petitioner states he has had to work in construction, as well as an ICBC claims adjuster. Another petitioner says he has both had to walk dogs and foray in the film industry.

The Problem & The System

The issue does not lay in the fact that the two above-mentioned petitioners are any less qualified. Instead, they underwent their medical schooling abroad and the current system gives strict preference towards those graduated from Canadian medical schools.

The current system was set up with a great purpose in mind, as many things are. The idea was to ensure that Canadian school graduates weren’t unemployed after undertaking so many years of training. Unfortunately, that has backfired. While these graduates may not see unemployment, those Canadian residents who studied abroad are.

SCSMA Fights For The Rights of Canadians Studying Abroad

A group was formed to help protect the rights of these students, called Society of Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad (SCSMA). The group is led by Rosemary Pawliuk whose own daughter was forced to do a residency in the US after she graduated from an Irish medical school. The SCSMA argues that all Canadian citizens (and permanent residents) should be able to compete fairly for access to postgraduate training (like residencies) “on the basis of individual skills, knowledge, and attributes relevant to the practice of medicine.”

The Lawsuit

The leaders of the lawsuit are Dr. Oliver Kostanski and Harris Falconer. Kostanski is a native of Vancouver but attended medical school in Poland so he could live near his grandparents. Falconer has been attending medical school in Vancouver. The men’s lawsuit was filed against the Association of Faculties of Medicine in Canada, the British Columbia Ministry of Health, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Kostanski and Falconer argue that the numerous barriers facing them upon return to British Columbia are a violation of their rights, as laid out by the country’s constitution. The University of British Columbia, who only accepts 10% to 15% of all applicants, has even admitted that the odds are stacked against those native Canadians who decide to study abroad before returning to their home country to practice medicine.

Just how hard is it to get a residency? Overseas graduates are given only an arbitrary 58 residency positions in British Columbia during the first round of matching. Those students who graduated from the United States or Canada, however, are guaranteed exclusive access to 288 positions. This number is equivalent to the number of students accepted into the UBC’s medical school each year.

Why Are Canadian Medical Students Having a Hard Time Finding Residencies?

Canadian Medical Students Residencies

A residency is one of the most important parts of any medical student’s journey to becoming a licensed, practicing physician. Unfortunately for many students across Canada, residencies are growing scarce, even as many patients across the country are struggling to find doctors to care for them. What’s happening in Canada, and what can be done to change it?

News from the Canadian Resident Matching Service

After completing medical school, aspiring doctors must complete a residency, which is essentially hands-on training under the watchful eye of licensed healthcare professionals. Not all Canadian students are being given the opportunity, even after graduating their medical programs. The Canadian Resident Matching Service, or CaRMS, is the organization responsible for matching resident doctors with training facilities. In April 2018, the organization said that 115 of this year’s graduating students could not find placement. This number is up from 99 in 2017 and 77 in 2016. Failing to complete between two and seven years of residency means they cannot receive a license to practice medicine.

A Devastating Blow

Medical school is one of the most difficult undertakings imaginable. Sleepless nights, countless hours of study, and days counting pennies due to the sheer cost of attending school create a great deal of stress for students. Imagine completing an entire program successfully, feeling incredibly relieved as a result, only to find out that you cannot complete the final leg of your journey through no fault of your own. For these 115 hopeful students, it was a devastating blow, and it can all be blamed on the declining number of available residency spots across Canada.

Why Are There Fewer Residency Spots?

Henry Annan, a fourth-year graduate at Dalhousie University, is also the president of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. In response to the increasing percentage of students who are not matched with residency programs, the group is now lobbying governments in individual provinces to give hospitals and other facilities more funding so that they can add the residency programs. Per Amman, provinces have been cutting funding for a few years, and those that haven’t cut funding simply haven’t been willing to keep up with the growing number of medical school graduates. Of course, mismatches between residency specialties that students wanted and the residency specialties available is also a factor.

Changes in Ontario

Ontario’s government recently announced that it would add 53 extra spots to help fulfill the needs of recent graduates in that province who did not receive a placement this year, but these spots don’t come without requirements. Students who accept them will be asked to sign a contract obligating them to work in an underserved area of the province for two years after their residencies are completed. Though it is an excellent step for now, it won’t work in the long run, and eventually, positions in the underserved communities will run out, as well.

As if this weren’t startling enough, the fact that patients across Canada struggle to find doctors makes it even more puzzling. People want to be doctors and need to complete the last step of the journey, and people need those doctors – but the Canadian government needs to allow for more residency spots in order to fulfill either of these needs.