June 15, 2024

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COMMENTARY: Do not let ‘foreign-trained medical graduates’ give up on Canada

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Canada is facing a health-care workforce shortage crisis, with over six million Canadians without a family doctor, and one-third of them searching for one for over a year.

Researchers see that Canada’s health-care workforce shortage stretches far beyond its hospitals:

  • The physician-to-patient ratio in Canada is 2.8 physicians per 1,000 people, which is half that of other developed countries
  • 1.8 million in Ontario do not have a family physician
  • B.C and Atlantic Canada have the highest number of adults reporting difficulties finding a doctor
  • 26 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are without a family doctor
  • 25 per cent of respondents in Quebec said they had no doctor
  • Over 43 per cent of adults above 35 years had been looking for a doctor for over a year
  • 24 per cent of Canadians with no doctor reported that their health deteriorated
  • Only 18 per cent of those with a family doctor could secure an appointment in a day or two

What’s the solution?

This shortage can be effectively managed by including foreign-trained medical graduates in the health care system.

Workers shortage in Canada’s health care is a pressing issue; with an increasingly aging population and demand for health services, this issue demands immediate action.

One potential solution could be to increase the number of residencies available to internationally trained physicians.

Collaboration among provincial and federal governments, medical schools, and health-care facilities helps effectively manage this solution. Medical schools and other health organizations help these qualified doctors to integrate into the Canadian health-care system by providing training, support, and mentorship.

Challenges for foreign grads

However, foreign-trained graduates face several challenges in becoming a part of the health-care system in Canada, which may discourage them from pursuing healthcare careers in Canada.

Some challenges these qualified professionals face include:

  1. Difficulty obtaining licensure – Canada’s medical licensure process is often rigorous and includes credential evaluation of the foreign degrees, additional exams, a compulsory residency program, and English/French language proficiency tests.
  2. Lack of residency positions – The residency positions available in Canada are limited, with heavy competition. Often, foreign-trained individuals apply several times with little success, resulting in discouragement and frustration.
  3. Financial barriers – The medical licensure process is lengthy and expensive. Each component of the exam costs between $1,200-$2,500. New immigrants or Canadians who graduated abroad may lack the financial resources to cover exam fees, residency fees, and living costs.
  4. Discrimination and bias – Some international medical graduates may face discrimination and bias when applying for health-care positions in Canada due to cultural and language differences.
  5. Lack of network and support – Foreign-trained graduates may struggle to find support and mentorship during application.

It is estimated that there are currently 13,000 medical doctors in Canada waiting to complete the licensing process. It has been found that “Canada has no shortage of doctors, but it does have a shortage of certified doctors.”

What can be done?

The federal and provincial governments continue to work with the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons and Family Physicians of Canada to find a way to explore alternative pathways for foreign-trained medical graduates to become licensed in Canada.

This Initiative included new programs to streamline the licence application process, increase the number of medical residency spots, and fast-tracking the licensing process.

Data from the Canadian Resident Matching Service for 2022 shows that only 26 per cent of all International medical graduate applicants were qualified for the residency program. Thus, regulatory bodies should open doors for foreign-trained family physicians to get them into Canadian healthcare quickly and safely, which helps further manage healthcare worker shortages.

Act now

The shortage of health-care workers in Canada calls for immediate action. Foreign-trained doctors can provide a simple yet necessary solution to the need.

Reviewing and expediting the licensing process for international medical graduates and other healthcare professionals, as well as increasing the number of residency spots available in each province, would greatly benefit Canadians.

Health care policymakers should consider foreign-trained doctors as essential contributors to the future workforce in health care. A foreign-trained doctor might be granted a provisional license under the supervision of a licensed physician for a limited period of time. If the audit is successful, the doctor could receive a permanent license.

This potential solution is multifaceted and needs a concrete plan; policymakers and health-care providers should work collaboratively to explore alternative pathways for licensing, increase the number of residency spots available in each province, and fast-track the licensing process.


Syamala Buragadda is currently a full-time doctoral candidate in clinical epidemiology at Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine. Her study is about brain recovery in people with neurological diseases like Multiple Sclerosis. Her future goal is to become a clinician, scientist, and a health policymaker at the World Health Organization. Aside from being a mother of two children, she enjoys experiencing new cultures and environments and is enjoying being part of St. John’s vibrant arts and cultural community.