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Opinion

Is Canada Missing out on Leveraging ITMDs in Its Healthcare Plans?

NEW DELHI, India, Aug 31 2021 (IPS) - With elections right round the corner in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said that a re-elected Liberal government would spend billions in the coming years to hire family doctors. This report says, Justin Trudeau promised that the Liberals would spend $3 billion over four years starting in 2022 to hire 7500 family doctors and nurses as well as tax and student loan incentives for health professionals who set up shop in rural or remote communities and also pledges an extra $6 billion to wrestle with wait lists.

Dr. Shafi Bhuiyan

A 2019 report states that there were 91,375 physicians in Canada, representing 241 physicians per 100,000 population. According to the Canadian Medical Association, around five million Canadians don’t have a primary care physician, or family health care team.

Canada’s overburdened healthcare system is yet to tap into its advantage all the untapped talent and skills available to it, as seen during the significant role Internationally Trained Medical Doctors, ITMDs played in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting the vaccination clinics, working as contact tracing managers and mental health advisors.

Canada is losing out by not involving and including ITMDs, says Dr. Shafi Bhuiyan, a health professional and Chair of ITMDs Canada Network (iCAN). “Over 4.5 million Canadians are not able to find their family physician, as a result the wait time to see a doctor has been increasing continuously, which is also resulting in social peace and justice disruption.”

Canada currently has more than 13,000 ITMDs, and the visa process, Bhuiyan says, has “a very thorough and rigorous screening program by the Canadian CIC, where medical experience plays a key role along with other requirements to enter the country, but once they come to Canada, due to multiple reasons, they lose out on securing a residency position”.

Saida Azam

Saida Azam is one such ITMD who moved to Canada almost three years ago with her husband for better career opportunities. Azam, a medical professional with experience working in India and Oman, says, “I have performed a number of surgeries and deliveries, I worked as a family physician for three years, but right now I am waiting to be able to do that here.

“The knowledge that I have in this field is really good, the only difference in relation to the Canadian context, with medicine, is that when I move from one territory or one country to another, things will be different, from the patients to the region and other such things. That doesn’t mean that I have less knowledge or the local doctors here have more. What would help people like me is, if there were a training program in place for Internationally Trained Medical Doctors to integrate us better into the Canadian healthcare system.

“Canada is home now, I wouldn’t say I am completely disappointed, but I hope that I will be able to share my expertise and pursue my career, ” says Azam.

One of the key challenges for ITMDs remains cost associated with licensing examinations, the CaRMS application process is often a barrier for newcomers. According to this report, 47 % of foreign-educated health professionals are either unemployed or employed in non-health related positions that require only a high school diploma.

The on-going Pandemic has been a time of crisis all over the world, and with shortage and with the under-utilization of health-care workers in Canada, the country is only creating a strain on its health care system by not including and leveraging on its ITMDs.

The 2020 OECD Policy Responses of Coronavirus (COVID19) report says, “by encouraging the creation of new jobs in the health sector globally, the report suggested a unique opportunity both to respond to the growing global demand for health workers and to address the projected shortages. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many OECD countries have recognised migrant health workers as key assets and introduced policies to help their arrival and the recognition of their qualifications.”

In 2020, Canada, where annual immigration amounts to around 300,000 new immigrants, announced its 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan, saying it would target the highest level of immigration in its history by welcoming 401,000 immigrants in 2021, 411,000 immigrants in 2022, 421,000 immigrants in 2023.

“The only time Canada welcomed over 400,000 immigrants in a year was in 1913, when it admitted 401,000 newcomers. It has never come close to this figure again,” this report states.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) says developing countries host more than one-third of international migrants in the world and most immigrants are migrant workers and are employed either formally or more often informally in their countries of destination.

This report by the ILO states the importance of immigrants and how “immigration plays a key role in the destination countries development and public policies can play an important role in enhancing its contribution to the development of destination countries. Excluding immigration from development strategies can represent missed opportunities for host countries.”

“The Canadian government is missing out by not including a pool of talent it has to its access, if these hurdles can be removed, and instead replaced by a more simpler and transparent process towards obtaining approved medical licence, it would be a win-win situation for all,” says Bhuiyan.

If Canada is able to overcome these systemic barriers and inequity towards its ITMDs, with a pool of talented immigrants, it has the potential that will not only impact the countries economic prosperity, immigrants alter the country’s income distribution and influence investment priorities and as taxpayers contribute to the public budget and benefit from public services.

 


  
 
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