Brain drain clogging the system

By Christian Louden

Canada currently has a shortage of trained medical professionals and while new solutions are being sought to remedy the situation, the problem still plagues many who are unfortunate enough to end up in hospital. As well, Canada isn’t the only country in the world with people in need of greater access to healthcare and as new physicians have to come from somewhere, they often come from the places that need them the most.

The Medical Communication Assessment Program, led by the faculties of education and medicine at the University of Calgary, seeks to provide some relief from this problem. Their aim isn’t to actively steal qualified physicians from developing countries or provide an incentive for them to immigrate here. Despite that, many are leaving behind countries with far fewer doctors per capita than Alberta for seemingly greener pastures.

Currently, the program accepts 40 candidates per year out of roughly 200 applicants and this number should grow over time as the program gains strength and funding. This may give the impression that there is an untapped resource of hundreds of qualified foreign physicians, but it is more likely that many of the other 160 didn’t make the cut because their skills were too badly degraded from time away from their profession.

Foreign physicians arriving in Canada probably immigrated here for more than just the promise of greater income. Many come looking for a better standard of living or means to support their families in their native countries. Canada’s master narrative tells us we’re a peace-loving, globally-minded nation out to spread equality and basic human rights for everyone. But if this is true, why are we propagating this brain drain from developing nations?

As developing countries strive to produce medical graduates that meet the standards of the developed nations, the reality is that they can’t afford to pay the medical graduates as much as their First World peers once they’ve received their education. With little pay, it is unsurprising that doctors are moving to places that can afford to pay them. In a country that will recruit physicians from disease-ravaged developing nations in order to fulfill its medical needs, one can’t help but wonder if a lack of foreign degree recognition in Canada is such a bad thing after all.

Although there is nothing fundamentally wrong with foreign doctors working in Canadian hospitals, the solution to Alberta’s medical labour shortage isn’t encouraging physicians from developing countries to immigrate here. Instead of sending “prosperity” cheques out every few years, that money could be put toward healthcare and education systems, providing more opportunities for Canadian students to gain the medical training they need to become physicians.

Because of the nature of Canada’s public healthcare system, doctors in Calgary are paid the same as doctors in places where there are greater shortages. It is only natural that people will seek employment in places that are most beneficial to them. While Canada experiences the effects of brain drain to the United States, the proposed solution here seems to be to invoke the same thing in developing countries, even if indirectly.

Perhaps some consideration should be given to stopping the problem at its source, rather than persuading trained professionals to leave their homelands–and those most in need–behind.

Leave a comment