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Foreign-trained MDs hit wall of bias in Quebec, rights agency finds

An ambulance arrives at a Quebec hospital.

Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

With more than 20 years experience as a physician in three countries, Yasmine Boubnider hoped she could contribute her medical know-how in her adopted home of Quebec. Instead, she finds herself among the ranks of the unemployed.

Dr. Boubnider, a kidney specialist born in Algeria, successfully passed her equivalence exam establishing her credentials in Quebec. But after applying for a residency spot at four different Quebec medical schools, three years running, she was shut out.

"All I wanted to do was practise in my profession. This is very frustrating," said Dr. Boubnider, who practised medicine in Algeria, France and Saudi Arabia. "It's as if they don't want people with experience here. Ultimately, it's our fellow citizens who lose out."

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Her troubles are shared by many other immigrant MDs in Quebec, according to a report by the Quebec Human Rights Commission. At a time when Quebec is short of doctors and 1.7 million people in the province lack a family practitioner, many doctors trained around the globe are encountering obstacles to getting jobs, the commission found.

In releasing findings from a lengthy investigation, the commission said on Tuesday that foreign-trained doctors in the province face ethnic-based discrimination.

The group said foreign-trained doctors who successfully pass their equivalence exams from the Quebec College of Physicians should theoretically be on the same footing as doctors trained at Quebec medical schools.

Yet every doctor who graduated from a Quebec medical faculty was offered a residency in 2007, the year under study; two-thirds of foreign-trained doctors were rejected, and the spots remained empty.

"The obstacles, one after the other, prevent them from succeeding," commission president Gaétan Cousineau said in an interview. "They're finding the door locked to them."

Part of the blame lies at the door of Quebec's medical schools, the commission found. The faculties use partly subjective criteria to select residents, and they're blocking foreign-trained MDs due to "apprehension" about their qualifications, Mr. Cousineau said.

The impediments have left Quebec in the bottom spot in Canada when it comes to integrating foreign-trained doctors. The admission rate of so-called international medical graduates is growing each year, but not in Quebec, the commission said.

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Last year, 20 per cent of Ontario physicians in residence programs were foreign-trained, compared with only 7 per cent in Quebec.

Mr. Cousineau said it's up to universities, the Quebec Health Ministry and the College of Physicians to "end this discriminatory process."

Meanwhile, other provinces are relying more and more on physicians from around the world; half the doctors practising in Saskatchewan are foreign-born, the rights commission said. Comlan Amouzou, head of a Quebec coalition for foreign-trained doctors, says applicants in Quebec are arbitrarily refused, and many have left to practise elsewhere. Others are working as cab drivers, agricultural workers or in restaurants, he said.

Quebec's Health Department announced steps this year to integrate more foreign MDs into residency spots, but Mr. Cousineau said it has not found evidence that the situation for foreign-trained doctors has improved.

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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