Nova Scotia

Syrian refugee hits roadblock in becoming a doctor

A Syrian refugee in Antigonish is calling on Canadian universities to help students who had to flee their home countries before they could graduate.

Tareq Hadhad was one year away from graduating medical school in Syria

Tareq Hadhad wanted to move to Canada in part because of the shortage of rural doctors. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

A Syrian refugee in Antigonish is calling on Canadian universities to help students who had to flee their home country before they could graduate.

Tareq Hadhad finished four years of medical school in Damascus before he says it was too dangerous to continue.

He then spent years helping provide medical treatment to refugees in Lebanon.

Hadhad moved to Antigonish in December, and hoped he'd be able to finish medical school so he could get to work. 

But now he faces a major setback — he's been told he has to start all of his studies from the undergraduate level.

"I really found it hard for me because I'm a newcomer here, and I need to start work as soon as possible," he said. "I finished four years of medicine in Syria."

Transferring credits an issue

One of the problems with his case is that the Syrian education system is structured differently. In Damascus, the 23-year-old could enter medical school directly out of high school.

Hadhad hoped to attend Dalhousie University in Halifax, and remain close to his family. He says an official there told him his credits couldn't be transferred over, so he approached a number of other Canadian universities and heard the same message.

Barbara Campbell, the director of international relations at UPEI, says medical and health studies are complicated programs to transfer between schools because they involve professional organizations in Canada. She says both federal and provincial governments are trying to streamline that process, but it's slow.

A spokesperson from Dalhousie University said they are doing what they can to help refugee students, and that they understand the traditional admissions process could be a challenge for some. They say they are being as flexible as possible. 

"Each student's situation will be different," said a statement from Dalhousie. "But we are confident that with creativity and resources available on campus, we will be able to adjust our admissions practices to accommodate these special circumstances."

A new plan

Hadhad says he expected the process to be tricky, but he thought he would qualify to apply for medical school.

"I know that studying medicine here is so competitive for Canadians," he said. "But there is really a big lack of doctors here, so I really hope I can be so helpful for the Canadians and for the Syrian refugees who arrived here lately."

While he's still young, he's worried about the financial difference student loans would make if he has to go through the whole process again. 

For now, he's finding help closer to his new home. He has been accepted to work on his undergraduate degree at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish

He says he's currently meeting with the school to see if it may transfer over some of his credits.

"I didn't give up. I'm determined to continue medicine."

About the Author

Carolyn Ray


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


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