Graduates of foreign medical schools: false hope.

Canadian Medical Association J, Vol. 132, May 15, 1985

Letter to the Editor

Graduates of foreign medical schools: false hope

I read Chouinard’s article on foreign-trained physicians with interest (Can. Med. Assoc J 1985; 132: 231).

Most graduates of foreign medical schools who come to North America have no illusions about the problems facing them. The fact that they have to take a number of “knowledge” – testing examinations and the experience of dealing with several licensing bodies in one country prepare them for the worst, unlike in the United Kingdom, where there is one licensing body for four countries.

What upsets foreign-trained physicians is the deliberate coolness or harassment of some of the licensing bodies. The physicians are kept running from pillar to post to fulfil the requirements in a frustrating vicious circle consisting of the evaluating examination, rotating internship, licensing by the Medical Council of Canada and postgraduate training for certification.

Most foreign-trained physicians suffer in silence, afraid of offending those in authority. There is no organization sympathetic to their plight, and their point of view is rarely heard.

I have experienced such obstruction twice. In 1979 I was told by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) that to practise as a surgeon in Alberta I had to be a licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. After I had fulfilled these criteria, I was told that I should be a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant (which I am) and that the CPSA was “reluctant to register anyone who is outside the province unless they are actually going to start working in this province”. When I protested this new requirement, I was told that it had been laid down in the Medical Profession Act and its bylaws since 1975. Why did the CPSA not tell me at the start what the act required?

The second experience occurred when I was offered a fellowship in surgical oncology by the M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston. I had been working towards this goal during my research and residency years, and when I received the offer I was ecstatic. I was eligible for a licence in Texas, but when it came to obtaining a non-immigrant visa for 1 year of training in the United States, the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates refused to approve my application because I had not passed the basic science portion of the Visa Qualifying Examination. Anyone who has taken this test knows how difficult it is to pass a pure basic science examination after being qualified for 5 to 10 years. I had to have up-to-date knowledge in basic medical science to obtain a temporary visa.

Graduates of foreign medical schools are ready to take up any challenge to make themselves acceptable and useful in Canadian society once they are allowed to enter the country. The ultimate effects of obstruction on their personal and professional lives are largely unknown. It is time someone looked at this problem.

Noorali Bharwani, MB, BS, FRCS (Edin), FRCS (Glasg), FRCSC
North Battleford Medical Clinic
North Battleford, Sask.

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