Nova Scotia

German doctor frustrated by rules that prevent him from practising in N.S.

A German doctor says he's frustrated by Nova Scotia regulations that prevent him from moving to this province to practice.

Licensing body says qualifications not recognized

German anesthesiologist Erik Steffen and his Cape Breton-born wife Julie and their children are vacationing in Wreck Cove. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

A German doctor says he's frustrated by Nova Scotia regulations that prevent him from moving to this province to practise.

Erik Steffen, 38, is an anesthesiologist. His wife, Julie, grew up in Wreck Cove, Cape Breton.

The Steffens want to move to Nova Scotia to raise their two sons, aged four and two, but Steffen says he cannot get a licence from the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"It's silly," said Steffen. "They make it so hard for us to come over here. I don't think the system in Germany is worse than Canada. It should be possible to transfer more easily."

Lots of work

Julie Steffen said it "makes her sad" when she hears stories about the doctor shortages in the province.

She said the family desperately wants to stay, and her husband would have no trouble getting a job.

"In fact, different doctors in Antigonish said they would take him; in Halifax, they said they would take him, but they can't hire him," she said. 

The Nova Scotia Health Authority currently has several vacancies for anesthesiologists, in Halifax, Truro, Amherst and Bridgewater.

Lacks certification

Steffen does not qualify for a medical licence in Nova Scotia because his qualifications are not recognized at a national level by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Germany is not one of the 29 jurisdictions that qualify for Royal College certification.

The Steffens say some provinces will allow uncertified specialists to practise under provisional licences while working toward that certification, but in Nova Scotia, that's not the case.

Julie and Erik Steffen want to raise their family in Nova Scotia. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

"What I worry about most is public safety," said Dr. Gus Grant, the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia.

Grant couldn't comment specifically on Erik Steffen or his qualifications.

He said the college is well aware of the pressures of underserviced communities, but that Nova Scotia rigorously follows the Royal College standards, which set the threshold for physician qualifications.

"What I am most concerned about is licensing physicians who cannot meet the standards expected of physicians."

Heading back

The Steffens, who are vacationing in Cape Breton this month, are making plans to return to Germany.

"My boys are going to start school soon," said Julie Steffen, "and once they do, probably we're just going to end up staying there and not coming back. It doesn't look like anything is going to change."

MLA Tim Houston, the Progressive Conservative finance critic, has been in touch with the Steffens, and says the situation just doesn't make sense.

"I just hear roadblocks that are getting in the way of common sense," he said.

Houston says Nova Scotia should follow the lead of other jurisdictions where international physicians can live and practise while working toward certification. 

"Other provinces have figured it out. We should figure it out as well."

Grant said nationally, various jurisdictions, including the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, have worked together to develop a blueprint to analyze the qualifications of international medical graduates.

He says, though, it will be up to individual provinces to adopt the blueprint and put it into practice.