Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia could lose doctors amid Canada's diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia

59 Dalhousie medical school residents are from Saudi Arabia. While they're technically students, a resident is a physician practising under supervision. They're working at no cost to Canadians because they're funded by their home country.

59 Dalhousie medical school residents are from Saudi Arabia

Nova Scotia could be losing dozens of doctors as a result of Canada's spat with Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock/funnyangel)

Nova Scotia could be losing dozens of doctors as a result of Canada's diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia.

Fifty-nine medical students from the country are doing their residency in Nova Scotia through Dalhousie University. They practise under supervision and actually treat patients.

Because the Saudi government funds their residency, the province gets a service for free.

It's unclear if the students will be leaving for certain, but another Dalhousie student from Saudi Arabia said he received a letter from his government that said he had until Aug. 31 to leave.

Dalhousie University declined to do an interview on the situation, but sent a statement.

It said the residency students are "trained physicians who have completed their medical degree elsewhere and have come to Canada to perform all or complete their residency training and return to Saudi Arabia.

"Dalhousie medical school has the clinical training capacity to train these Saudi residents, who are fully funded through scholarships administered through the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau."

'We benefit from their practice at no cost'

Dalhousie stated the residencies are based in Nova Scotia and the residents do rotations in hospitals in the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the IWK Health Centre and, less frequently, the Horizon Health District in New Brunswick. 

"While these trained physicians are here in Canada completing their residency, we benefit from their practice at no cost to the Nova Scotia health-care system."

This practice has been in place across Canada for over 30 years, the university stated.

Health Minister Randy Delorey says the departure of Saudi Arabian medical students could 'possibly lead to some inconveniences.' (CBC)

In Nova Scotia, 26 of the 59 residents are in surgical specialty training disciplines such orthopedics, neurosurgery, otolaryngology, obstetrics, plastic and general surgery. The remaining students are in medical specialties such as internal medicine, pediatrics, cardiology and pathology.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said staff are working to assess the potential impact of the loss of the medical students.

He said while student departures could "possibly lead to some inconveniences," the impact won't be significant.

"The early feedback that I've been getting is that it won't be critical impacts to the system and that efforts will be made to mitigate any impacts that do occur," Delorey said.

Most leave after training completed

Doctors Nova Scotia said while "this news is unfortunate," there doesn't seem to be a direct impact on Nova Scotia's ability to recruit and retain physicians.

"While the Saudi residents are here doing their training/fellowships, they do provide clinic care, but for the most part, they all leave as soon as they complete their training to practise medicine elsewhere [in other countries]," Doctors Nova Scotia said in a statement.

The diplomatic brawl between Canada and Saudi Arabia started Friday when Global Affairs Canada tweeted, "Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists."

The Saudi foreign ministry responded by ordering Canada's ambassador, Dennis Horak, to leave the country, and called the use of "immediately release" in Canada's tweet "unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states."

It also said: "Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs."

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

With files from Carolyn Ray