When the NDP made getting more foreign-trained doctors practicing in Canada a part of their election platform, Jerry Green felt a sense of victory. Green has been advocating for federal and provincial governments to correct what he believes are injustices in the form of the onerous impediments foreign-trained doctors contend with in order to practice in Canada and the continued lack of accessible health care for many Canadians.
Green, a Torontonian who is a Canadian-trained doctor, has been fighting to get back his full medical licence for nearly 25 years. He says he lost the licence in 1987 “for prescribing vitamins instead of drugs” and years later, after many requests and battles, received an educational licence from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO).
“They gave me an educational licence and I have to do a residency to convert that into a practicing licence. As you know, it’s almost impossible to find a residency,” he told me when we last spoke a couple of weeks ago.
Thus, Green finds himself in the same predicament as so many of the immigrant doctors who are on the sidelines of our deteriorating medical system — often after being recruited by Canadian immigration officials (why not bring in the best and brightest? Even if they can’t readily practice their chosen profession, they’re likely to find a way to contribute meaningfully to Canadian society).
Green is advocating for procedural overhauls in licensing and more public awareness of how licences are issued. With Jack Layton wielding more power in Ottawa, he thinks he will see change people can believe in.
“Like Barack Obama I believe in hope,” he said, mentioning that he has held a lot of respect for Layton since the ’80s, when Green was on a Toronto Board of Health committee and Layton was a city councillor. “The NDP has not been afraid to challenge corporations and organizations, and that’s why I think Jack will be true to his word.”
The NDP pronounced their support for foreign-trained doctors (or international medical graduates: IMGs) near the beginning of the recent election campaign, not long after Green and the Association of International Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (AIPSO) held a news conference at Queen’s Park. The group insists the CPSO is breaking the law by not giving IMG doctors enough spots as either residents or practicing physicians.
“They’re supposed to be giving out transitional licences to trained doctors and they’re not doing that and they’re being able to get away with it because politicians aren’t enforcing the law,” Green told me.
When asked how much faith people can have in the NDP’s election promises when they’re not the party in power and when it’s the provinces who have jurisdiction over health care, Green said it’s cash that can sway.
“The feds theoretically have more power than the provinces. Plus, they have the power of money. They’re giving money every month to go towards paying provincial health-care plans, OHIP and other things, and they could hold the money and they could withdraw the money. Money is a powerful thing.”
Green, who has been among the many contributors to the research that helped shape the Obama administration’s U.S. health-care legislation, is suing the CPSO for $11.5 million in compensation for lost wages, hardship and for the organization’s failure to issue licences to qualified physicians. “I would like to be compensated for my losses over the years. I would like the College to start obeying the law in regards to issuing transitional licences to qualified physicians in the province,” he said, adding there is a motion from CPSO’s attorneys asking for the case to be settled on a summary judgment (without trial) on October 12.
Those on the other side of the debate have said issuing licences to doctors who haven’t been trained in Canada puts patients at risk. Problem is, the World Health Organization ranks our health-care system 30th in the world, behind places like Colombia and Saudi Arabia. Also, if you’re sick and need a doctor, would you not trust someone who’s been practicing medicine for years rather than go without care altogether? Plus, there are instances of Canadian-born doctors who are trained at Ivy League universities in the States who can’t easily get a licence to practice when they choose to return home to Ontario.
The most damaging fact about the argument, though, is the apparent double standard that exists with the use of foreign-visa trainees (FVTs), a group of international doctors sponsored by their home countries (often oil-rich nations) who practice in Ontario without going through the rigours other IMGs must in order to work in our system. To me, their inclusion in the ranks of practicing physicians and surgeons seems to indicate the overseers of our health-care system may not be so concerned that IMGs without an Ontario residency would put patients at risk.
I don’t want to come across as lacking objectivity on this issue. If anyone on the other side wants to tell me how Green and AIPSO has it wrong, I’m eager to listen and report. At the moment, though, having spoken to a few IMG doctors and researched the topic (although not nearly as well as I need to), I think there’s an injustice going on here, and I wish that wasn’t the case.
That said, the folks at HealthForceOntario’s Access Centre have, by all accounts I’ve heard, done excellent work for the more than 4,000 IMGs in the province.
This is a complicated subject and a critical one for all of us. Any assistance in helping to decipher it for everyone would be a great public service. Comment below or send an email.