Toronto

Some internationally trained doctors can apply for 30-day Ontario licence to fight COVID-19

International medical graduates who've passed their exams to practise in Canada, or have graduated from medical school in the past two years, can now apply for a temporary licence in Ontario to help fight COVID-19.

Provision covering licences was triggered last month, but few have applied so far

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario issued its first short-term, supervised licence in mid-March, and says those who get one of the licences can apply to extend it an additional 30 days. (Shutterstock / StockLeb)

International medical graduates who've passed their exams to practise in Canada, or have graduated from school in the past two years, can now apply for a supervised 30-day medical licence in Ontario to help fight COVID-19. 

The short-term licence, called a Supervised Short Duration Certificate, allows some foreign-trained physicians and domestic medical school graduates to practise under supervision at public hospitals, psychiatric facilities and Crown agencies. 

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) began issuing the certificates last month — without an announcement — by triggering a provision in existing provincial legislation.

So far, few doctors have applied — although many likely don't know it's an option.

Vanig Garabedian didn't, but now that he does, the Syrian refugee plans to apply for the licence. Garabedian worked as as an obstetrician and gynecologist in his native country.

"I have experience dealing with crisis," Garabedian told CBC Toronto. "This is what I can do to pay back the country which gave my family and me another chance to survive."

The college is making the certificate available at a time of growing strain on the province's hospitals, as roughly one in 10 known cases of COVID-19 in Ontario are health-care workers and more doctors are needed to deal with the expected surge in cases.

Vanig Garabedian came to Canada as a Syrian refugee in 2015. Now a Canadian citizen, he wants to bring his years of experience as a physician to the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Premier Doug Ford has warned that there's very little separating what Ontario will face from the devastation Italy's health-care system has seen, and that scenario has some internationally trained doctors looking for ways to help on the front lines of the pandemic. 

Garabedian practised for 16 years in Syria before coming to Canada in 2015. In the years since, he has passed his Medical Council of Canada exams so that he can continue practising here.

First licence issued mid-March

As of last week, CPSO had received only 12 applications, and had approved 10 of them. The college couldn't say whether any foreign-trained doctors were among the 10 physicians who were issued licences.

CPSO issued its first licence through the program in mid-March, and says those who get a licence can apply to extend it an additional 30 days.

The licences are the product of a provision within Ontario's Medicine Act that's been in place since the early 1990s. The provision exists so that CPSO can issue these temporary licences in situations like pandemics, when there may be a shortage of physicians.

In a written statement, CPSO told CBC Toronto it's working to fast-track applications so that physicians can start providing care for patients as quickly as possible.

But before applying for the licence, applicants have to find a hospital that will take them on, and a supervising physician willing to oversee their work.

Applicants for the supervised 30-day licence must have:

  • Graduated from medical school in Canada, the U.S. or a school that was, at the time of graduation, listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools.

  • Practised medicine, graduated medical school or passed Medical Council of Canada exams within the last two years.

  • Secured a spot working in a hospital, psychiatric facility or for a Crown agency.

  • Found a physician prepared to act as their supervisor.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca considers these licences a positive step forward in the fight against COVID-19 — within what current provincial legislation allows.

But he said Ford and his team overseeing the province's battle against the novel coronavirus should also be looking at harnessing the skill set of other internationally trained health-care workers, such as nurses, technicians and doctors who don't meet the legislative criteria. 

Steven Del Duca, Ontario's Liberal leader, thinks the province should also be looking at harnessing the skills of other internationally trained health-care workers, such as nurses and technicians. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

"This is the moment when that pool of talent can be enlisted to try and help with something that we've never had to face before," said Del Duca. 

In Ontario, there are 13,000 foreign-educated doctors and 6,000 foreign-educated nurses who aren't working in their fields, according to numbers from HealthForceOntario that Del Duca cited in a letter to Premier Ford this week. 

Province 'actively engaged on contingency planning'

The Minister of Health's office told CBC Toronto the province is "actively engaged on contingency planning that includes leveraging Ontario's thousands of unlicensed internationally educated health professionals to help address gaps."

Other jurisdictions within Canada and the United States have taken their own steps toward utilizing internationally trained health-care workers.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. announced Wednesday that it has fast-tracked a new bylaw to amend the province's Health Professions Act so that international medical graduates can apply for a supervised associate physician licence to fight COVID-19. 

It's now in a mandatory two-week review period. 

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to allow foreign medical school graduates who aren't licensed to practise in the U.S. to provide patient care in hospitals, as long as they've completed one year of graduate medical education. 

About the Author

Nicole Brockbank

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories. nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca

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