Friday, June 8, 2007

The Canadian Dilemma - Doctors Who Flip Hamburgers

A few years ago I got into a conversation with cab driver in Toronto. I was surprised to learn that the driver, an immigrant from India, had been unable to find work in his profession during his five years in Canada. His qualifications from universities in both the UK and India, included a Ph.D. All of his qualifications were recognized in Canada. The problem he ran into was a lack of Canadian job experience. Despite being interviewed over twenty times for a position he was repeatedly given the thumbs down. This anecdote along with similar stories I have come across in the media, are fairly commonplace these days.

Immigrants arrive in Canada buoyed with high hopes, intent of giving of their best. How come then so many qualified immigrants end up in low end jobs, some even on the unemployment rolls? How come a high percentage end up leaving, returning home or moving to another immigrant destination?

There is a critical doctor shortage in Canada, something health professionals and administrators have long been complaining about. There are good sized communities in Canada without a doctor. In some cities the doctor shortage has compelled patients to resort to emergency departments or clinics in order to find help. One study predicts that come 2011, Canada may be short as many as 6,000 doctors. The shortfall isn't only related to GP's but also to specialists in areas such as obstetrics, radiology and anesthesiology. It's an acute and growing problem.

Red tape and entrenched regulations are part of the challenge faced by immigrant doctors. Canadian Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons require all graduating doctors to complete a residency of two years or more. While many immigrant doctors are fully qualified, their residency stints in their homelands don't count since only Canadian and American residencies are accepted. So you have situations where highly qualified individuals are compelled to work in a fast food joint or clean floors, because they find it next to impossible to get a residency.

Foreign trained doctors are quite literally caught on the horns of a dilemma. In order to be eligible for residency they have to have at least a year of medical practice behind them ... but in order to practice in Canada they have to have residency. It is in fact a classic Catch-22

It's surprising this problem has been allowed to get to this point. Quite aside from the importance of doing the right thing by new immigrants, there are also economic benefits to Canada that would accrue with more active recruitment of immigrant doctors. It would save provincial taxpayers a whack of cash since they wouldn't be paying toward the cost of educating as many medical professionals. Concerns about maintaining standards are important, but the assumption that foreign standards don't match up is overblown, especially given the advances in clinical care with the greater availability of medical technology.

The whole process needs to be fast-tracked. Most importantly, the residency hurdle needs to be quickly addressed by recognizing foreign residencies (other than American) that meet provincial standards, so that these valuable individuals aren't left to languish in the wings.

Qualified immigrants in the US seem to fare better when it comes to finding work in their field. The American "melting pot" approach is a great equalizer in certain respects. There has been the suggestion that Canadian employers who cite "lack of experience" or other in-house regulations as reasons for turning down immigrant applicants are in effect practicing cloaked discrimination, and even racism. There are also claims that some professional sectors have for want of a better term a sort of 'old boys' club' mentality and exercise a form of protectionism when it comes to hiring protocols. If this is in fact going on in some cases, all the more reason for the government to act in order to ensure that red tape isn't being used as an artificial barrier to discriminate against immigrant applicants on the basis of their race or cultural heritage.

In this era of international trade, both Canada and the US have reciprocal trading relationships with other nations. The outsourcing of operations to countries in Asia is an example of this. When you consider this new economic relationship together with the high sounding words of praise the Canadian government routinely lavishes on new immigrants and the skills they offer, it is becoming increasingly unacceptable that these employment anomalies are being swept under the rug. At least the Tories have undertaken a $3 million dollar study to try and get to the roots of the problem. Let's hope it results in some real action.

The Canada I know is about fair play and decency, and that ethic should be extended to all Canadian job seekers irrespective of origin.

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