Nova Scotia to test foreign-trained family doctors in 2019

The government of Nova Scotia has approved a long-awaited program to test foreign-trained family physicians in an effort to make a dent in the doctor shortage.

Practice Ready Assessment program to help fill a void during the doctor shortage

Nova Scotia Heath Minister Randy Delorey has approved a program to test foreign trained family physicians. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The government of Nova Scotia has approved a long-awaited program to test foreign-trained family physicians in an effort to make a dent in the doctor shortage. 

The announcement means there will be a way for family doctors trained in jurisdictions that are not recognized by the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Nova Scotia to prove that they can meet Canadian medical standards and work in the province.

This also means Nova Scotians who trained in several medical schools abroad will have the option to try to return home.

"The goal and the hope, of course, is that … the physicians internationally that are out there and want to come and practise in Nova Scotia will take advantage of this opportunity," said Health Minister Randy Delorey, who approved the program.

He said it will be "much like a residency program for new physicians."

Previous program cut in 2015

The first participants in the program are expected to begin their assessments at Dalhousie University in early 2019, and are expected to be seeing patients by next fall.

The program, which will be called Practice Ready Assessments, fills the gap that was created when the former program was cut by the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2015.

At that time, new national standards were being introduced and the College decided to cancel the program so it could be redeveloped. But the loss of it cut about 40 working physicians from the province, as each participant was required to do a four year return of service. 

Kevin Chapman of Doctors Nova Scotia said the Practice Ready Assessments program will help thousands of Nova Scotians find family doctors. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Kevin Chapman of Doctors Nova Scotia said the re-creation of the program is a great opportunity, and will go a long way in filling the gap. 

"It comes at a time of real need," he said. Chapman estimates 10 physicians will be able to take on between 10,000 and 13,000 patients.

"Then you add 10 the following year, and so on. It can add up pretty quickly," he said.

He said this took a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes, and while people may be disappointed the program won't begin until next year, it's necessary to make sure it's done properly.

"I think everybody wants things to happen tomorrow, or today probably, but I think given the number of players involved — the College is involved, the health authority is involved, Dalhousie is involved — it takes a fair bit of time to get everything together."

Assessed for 3 months

Family doctors trained internationally will be assessed for three months. If they pass, they'll receive a conditional licence to work in under-serviced areas.

The health department lists those areas as nearly the entire province: Halifax, Dartmouth, Cape Breton, the Annapolis Valley and northern Nova Scotia. 

Delorey said for years, government assumed the doctor shortage was a rural issue, but the creation of the province's need a physician waitlist has shown high need in the Halifax area as well. 

"We know that Dartmouth, in particular, has significant need and upcoming need," he said. 

In March, more than half the people registered on the waitlist were in the central zone of the province, which includes the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The participants will also be required to complete a return of service for several years, although the health department said the exact length is still being worked out. 

The program will not test foreign-trained specialists at this time. The College said in the fall it would be too complex and expensive to set up assessments for every specialty, but it left the door open to starting assessments for fields of particular need. 

About the Author

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca