Dalhousie-trained doctor says residency rules have to change

Another foreign-born Nova Scotia doctor has come forward to flag the strict residency rules he says are driving some willing young physicians away.

“They’re just not doing enough,” said Dr. Matthew Kumar on a short lunch break as he completes his medical residency at the hospital in Inverness, NS

Originally from Malaysia, he began his studies at the International Medical University before moving to Nova Scotia to complete them at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Like others, the roadblock came when it was time to find a residency in the province he would come to love: out of the question unless he was a citizen or a permanent resident.

“And I took up a job as a research aid with the surgical department at the QE II, and I was working nights at a call centre, just up until I could get my permanent residency status,” said Kumar, saying it took about two years to complete the process.

This is the third physician CTV News has spoken with, all having taken the same career path and offering the same complaint.

“As far as I know, a lot of them are either turning sights to the United States, the UK or going back to their own home countries. So, you have Canadian medical graduates who would prefer to stay there, but are unable to, said Dr. Taha Khan, a resident physician in Boston, Mass., who spoke to CTV News last Tuesday.

Dalhousie is the only current Canadian partner for International Medical University in Malaysia, but the school told us last week the long-running agreement is now winding-down with the final three students expected in the class of 2025.

“Rather than making meaningful policy changes and increasing the number of residency spots for graduates, they decided to can the program, which is like chopping off your arm because your thumb hurts,” said Kumar.

Residency spots are sorted out online through a platform called “The Canadian Resident Matching Service” — CARMS, for short.

The website notes applicants “must also be a Canadian citizen or hold a valid Canadian permanent resident card” but the CEO told CTV News it has nothing to do with setting the criteria, which is left to the provinces and their individual medical schools.

“They collectively determine the policies for that particular province and that medical school,” said John Gallinger from his office in Ottawa.

While the health minister declined an interview, Khalehla Perrault, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness, responded in a late-day email to CTV News.

“Residency seats and criteria for CARMS are established by each of the provinces. In Nova Scotia, eligible students who graduate from medical seats that are funded by the province have a pathway to residency training. Some international students are eligible for these seats. Nova Scotia also recently expanded a designated pathway to residency for 10 international medical graduates studying outside of Canada, with priority given to those with a connection to Nova Scotia,” said Perrault.

While we can’t speak to individual cases, we do know circumstances differ for each student. Staff from the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment is happy to speak to medical school graduates interested in working in our province’s health-care system.

Nova Scotia does have a high demand for our residency program and has been very successful in filling our residency spots. However, we are still very committed to attracting and retaining more health-care professionals to our province and will continue to explore how we can. maximize opportunities,” said Perrault.

A senior official in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine was also unavailable for interviews Monday.

The experience has been disappointing for Kumar, who admits he considered going home, where his skills would be appreciated — and put to work right away.

“Ultimately, it’s the ineffective bureaucracy of the province and the university. Both of them share that burden,” he said.

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