Dalhousie University says it will be ready next year to start assessing the work of foreign-trained physicians, opening the door for them to write their Canadian exams and start practising in the country.

It's part of a national campaign to fill the large number of vacancies and cut wait-lists. 

But for now, specialists won't be eligible for assessment. Nova Scotia's practice-ready assessment will only accept family physicians.

"The issue is that it's quite labour-intensive to do it for each of the other disciplines, but they may choose to do that in due course," said Dr. David Gass, head of the department of family medicine at Dalhousie University.

The new program replaces CAPP, the Clinician Assessment for Practice Program, which was canned in 2015.

National initiative

Since then, the Medical Council of Canada has developed a national practice-ready assessment program that includes consistent requirements to ensure that foreign-trained doctors will maintain the Canadian standard of care.

The new program comes as three foreign-trained specialists complained publicly that, despite doctor shortages, Nova Scotia does not provide them with options to practise in the province.

The need for family doctors is also significant. In July, the Nova Scotia Health Authority said 33,216 Nova Scotians had registered on the wait-list for a physician.

Some provinces have already started their practice-ready assessments with considerable demand.

Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, closed the window for applicants in 2016 after filling all spots for the next two years. That province is accepting 10 physicians in the winter and another 10 in the fall.

Working out details

While Nova Scotia is on its way to starting its assessments, "there's several steps to go before we get there," said Gass.

He expects a consultant's report will be completed by January at the latest. It will make recommendations on the business plan and implementation details.

Then, it will up to the provincial Department of Health and Wellness to approve it, both philosophically and financially.

Gass says many details are still being ironed out, including the length of the program, the number of participants and the cost to each physician. It's also unknown if the physicians who participate will be mandated to stay and work in the province for a set amount of time.

He says each physician will have to write some exams, similar to fourth-year exams in Canada, to make sure they qualify.

Once in Nova Scotia, they will have written and simulated tests with clinical scenarios before being observed by a peer.

"I think all our estimates are that we need to increase our production of family physicians by around 10 to 20 people a year," said Gass.

Boosting the number of family physicians can also be achieved in part by increasing the family medicine residency program, Gass said — something that's already in the works with the health authority.