British Columbia

Canadian doctors trained overseas petition court to end 'system of exclusion'

Oliver Kostanski is like thousands of others in Canada who have spent years trying to obtain residency to complete medical training. Now, a group representing Canadian doctors trained overseas is petitioning the court saying the system is discriminating against them.

Thousands competing but few residency spots available

Despite having all necessary qualifications and references, Canadian doctors trained abroad say the system is failing them. (Shutterstock)

After completing his medical degree in Poland, Canadian-born and raised Oliver Kostanski has spent the last five years trying to obtain residency in British Columbia.

He's applied year after year and each time he's been denied one of the few spots for International Medical Graduates (IMGs).

"I have tried to fight it but I have come to feel increasingly inferior and worthless," he says in a petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

Kostanski is not alone, he's one of thousands across Canada facing the same barriers.

The Society of Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad says the system of matching students to residency positions is unconstitutional because it discriminates against Canadian citizens who have studied abroad.

The group is petitioning the court for change, calling the process exclusionary and lacking transparency.

Residency training is necessary in order to practice as a doctor and there are two streams of applicants — Canadian Medical Graduate (CMG) or International Medical Graduate (IMG).  

According to the court documents, in 2017, CMGs competed for 118 residency spots in family medicine and 170 for other specialties in B.C. That same year, IMGs competed for 58 spots, but 52 of them were in family medicine — leaving just six specialty positions in internal medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry.

That means any IMG who wants to train in another specialty does not have the option.

'I wanted to connect to my roots'

Kostanski, who was raised in North Vancouver, says he chose Poznan University of Medical Science in Poland mainly to connect to his roots and spend time with his grandfather who lived there.

Other benefits included cheaper tuition and a six year direct-entry program, which means starting medical school directly without a bachelor's degree.

Upon returning to B.C., Kostanski says he tried to get into the residency training system but it was complicated and confusing.

Despite having all the necessary qualifications and references, he says he's faced constant roadblocks to obtaining a position.

He's worked construction and other jobs just to pay the bills while working as a medical trainee with heart specialists for free, but it hasn't helped.

"I was clinically depressed and required medical treatment," he says in the documents.

Kostanski trained with specialist doctors at St. Paul's Hospital in hopes of bolstering his application. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Charter rights violated

As it stands, the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Medicine's postgraduate medical education program determines placement in residency training.

But the petition says statutorily "The College [of Physicians and Surgeons] cannot lawfully delegate its powers, including the power to set standards and other eligibility criteria, to a third party."

The petitioners claim their charter right to leave Canada temporarily and to return to work and study has been violated.  They also cite equality rights and liberty rights, including the choices of where to reside, education and occupation.

"It never occurred to me or my parents when I left to study medicine in Poland that in Canada, Canadians would be denied the opportunity to compete for education or training," says Kostanski.

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