Nearly a third of Hamilton's new recruit physicians are foreign-trained, according to a recent labour profile from Workforce Planning Hamilton.

Of new recruits, 32 per cent were foreign-trained, the profile stated. Foreign-trained physicians make up about 26 per cent of Hamilton's total physician population, according to Jane Walker of the Hamilton Physician Recruitment and Retention Program.

She pointed out that while some of these physicians are foreign-born, others are Canadians who pursued medical school outside of the country.

'People have the assumption that all internationally trained doctors struggle to get established here. But not all internationally trained physicians are driving cabs.' —Judy Travis, Workforce Planning Hamilton

"They count as foreign-trained, but really they're Canadians who are returning home," she said.

Most foreign-trained physicians coming to Hamilton are either born in Canada or overseas, as a very small percentage come from the United States, Walker said — only one U.S. graduate came to the city in 2008, and that doctor was born in Canada.

While Canadian-trained doctors still outpace them in total numbers, there is a growing number of foreign-trained physicians coming to work in the city and Hamilton is not unique.

In 2011, 1,628 licences were issued to foreign-trained doctors out of 3,973 issued that year, according to the most recent numbers from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. That's 41 per cent of the total licences issued that year and triple the number of foreign-trained doctors granted licences in 1997.

For the past eight-years, more licences have been issued for foreign-trained doctors than to Ontario-trained physicians. This is due to many factors, including recruitment efforts and higher numbers of qualified applicants, according to the CPSO.

It's a fact a lot of Canadians may not be aware of, Judy Travis, executive director of Workforce Planning Hamilton, said

"People have the assumption that all internationally trained doctors struggle to get established here," she said. "But not all internationally trained physicians are driving cabs."

Hamilton is a particularly attractive area for physicians of all backgrounds, Walker said.

"It's larger, more urban, more multicultural. There's more economic opportunity," she said, though she noted other large urban centres see similar draws.

Shifting demographics

As Hamilton's population ages, the need for physicians grows, which makes attracting physicians of all backgrounds more important.

Hamilton's doctor population is aging as well, according to Walker, with 12 per cent of physicians over the age of 65.

"Most of these physicians are working full-time in large practices," she said. "Sometimes they may have to retire suddenly because of health issues so it makes this sector a bit more unstable."

The city is short of physicians overall, Walker explained. The province recommends that communities have one doctor for every 1,380 people. With a population of around 520,000, Hamilton should have at least 377 physicians. Currently, the city has about 360 doctors, 17 short of the recommended number.

As well, the city wasn't actively recruiting until the mid-2000s, leaving a dip in the number of middle-aged doctors set to take over as the older generation retires.

Part of Walker's role is to assist retiring physicians in transitioning so that patients aren't left scrambling to find care in their absence.

"A lot of it is finding a replacement. Not every young physician is right for every practice, so you have to take that into consideration," she said.

In Hamilton, along with helping bridge the gap between young and retiring doctors, foreign-trained doctors offer a unique wealth of experience that benefits a city as diverse as Hamilton, Walker said.

"They're bringing knowledge from their own country and many of them speak another language," she said.

"It provides a different perspective on lots of different things."