The Sunday Magazine

A pandemic is not the right time to licence more foreign-trained doctors: regulator

Dr. Linda Inkpen, president of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, says we do not have a shortage of physicians in Canada to deal with the pandemic, “nor is there one anticipated.”

Dr. Linda Inkpen says doctors trained outside Canada can volunteer in other ways during this crisis

Health-care workers are seen administering COVID-19 tests at one of Alberta's 'drive-up' assessment centres. (Alberta Health Services/Twitter)

There is a disconnect in our health-care system. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian hospitals are asking for additional help to deal with an expected surge of patients. Meanwhile thousands of foreign-trained doctors who have medical skills and want to volunteer are facing roadblocks, doctors such as Ali Mahdi who is from a family of five medics, all trained outside Canada.

He helped launch a petition asking the authorities to relax the regulations for medical licensing in Canada, so International Medical Graduates (IMGs) can volunteer as physicians during the pandemic.

Those regulations are established and maintained by provincial medical authorities, usually the College of Physicians and Surgeons in each province. Their umbrella group is the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada (FMRAC).

The president of the FMRAC, Dr. Linda Inkpen, says there are many ways that IMGs can help during the COVID-19 crisis, "just not as licenced physicians."

Dr. Linda Inkpen is the president of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada (FMRAC). (Winston Maund)

"There is a call for testing. There is a call for contact tracing. There's a call for monitoring and surveillance. There's a government website asking for health-care workers to volunteer," she said in an interview with Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition.

Inkpen says we do not have a shortage of physicians in Canada to deal with the pandemic, "nor is there one anticipated."

However, should that change, there is a plan in place to fill the gap. First, provincial regulators would offer temporary licences to recently-retired physicians, then to senior residents who are currently employed in our health-care system. They are also planning to allow physicians to work in other provinces, if necessary.

"We have the mandate of public protection and patient safety," said Inkpen, which is why accelerating the licencing of IMGs is not a priority at this time. 

"A physician whose competency and training has not been assessed … would need to be under supervision, would need to have a physician overseeing what he or she does," she said. "In pandemic times, that is very very difficult to do."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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