Edith Quintanilla immigrated to Canada six years ago from El Salvador where she was a medical doctor for four years.
She knew that without a licence to practice medicine in Canada that she would have to look for alternatives if she wanted to work in the healthcare industry.
Edith isn’t alone — about 6,000 medical doctors around the world immigrated to Canada in the last four years and only two to three percent received a licence, according to Dr. Shafi Bhuiyan, who personally experienced this himself when he immigrated to Canada a decade ago.
Shafi’s story could have ended there but after a colleague encouraged him to teach at a university and he subsequently got hired by Ryerson in 2013, he went on to co-found the Internationally Trained Medical Doctors (ITMD) bridging program at The Chang School at Ryerson in 2015.
The program integrates international medical graduates like Edith into non-licensed jobs in Canada’s healthcare sector.
Back in 2016, Edith heard about the ITMD program through Health Force Ontario. Due to family and other personal commitments, Edith couldn’t join until this year, but she recalls her English as a Second Language (ESL) classmates had always spoken highly about the program. Edith is currently over half-way through the 13-week program.
“My idea of integrating into the Canadian healthcare system is doing work that’s not clinically related because I don’t have a licence,” she said. “However, there are many other areas where people like me can use our skills like public health.”
Edith is focusing on public health in the ITMD program to prepare her for a career working in public health and research.
Like Edith, Agafya Krivova said after joining the program, she discovered there’s so many ways to pursue a medical career without a licence. Agafya is a physician from Russia, where she specialized in anesthesiology.
“Most of us (in the program) were trying to get our licence. However, it’s time consuming to get a licence and the chances are low,” said Agafya. “I told myself I need to find out what I can do so I can get my career started again.”
Agafya graduated from the program last September and is currently a Program Assistant with the ITMD program. She’s now in the process of getting her project management licence.
Helping Medical Doctors from Around the World
After operating the program as a pre-pilot for three years, Shafi said it was deemed successful. In winter 2018, the program received funding from the Ontario government and another cohort will occur in Fall/Winter 2020.
According to the ITMD progress report, as of December 2019, a total of 98 ITMD participants graduated with an 85 percent success rate, meaning they went on to secure placements in the healthcare sector. As of July 2020, that number grew to 228 professionals from 49 countries.
“We are extremely proud of the program’s diversity,” said Shafi. “Our program’s participants represent new immigrant health professionals from 49 different countries around the world. This program continues to gain momentum, and we are excited to witness the program’s growth in the coming years.”
Dr. Aby Mathews Maluvelil graduated from the ITMD program and is currently working for Access Alliance supporting immigrant researchers in Toronto. He acknowledges the program gave him the confidence to start building his career in Toronto. “The ITMD bridging program, with its in-class training and unique idea of practicum placement is a very good option for an internationally trained medical doctor to start their career building in Canada.”
The program consists of 13 weeks of in-class training followed by six to eight weeks of practicum placement in a hospital or in healthcare management. Shafi said that they’re currently working with 24 healthcare partners, including St. Michael’s Hospital, Sunnybrook Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children.
Building Invaluable Skills and Relationships
Students in the program gain more than practical experience. Shafi said it’s the soft skills like understanding Canadian culture that are equally important.
“The ITMD program gives the students the skills and competencies based on Canadian standards,” said Shafi, referring to data management, communication, and leadership skills. “While they may be knowledgeable in the field of medicine, it’s very unlikely for them to get hired if they lack these skills and competencies.”
For example, ITMD graduate Maha Awaiz Hassan, currently a Research Coordinator at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto said the program gave her the opportunity to revisit epidemiology, learn about project management, and refresh her skills in statistical software programming.
Even as the program has had to shift to a 100 percent online model due to COVID-19, Edith said her practicum hasn’t suffered.
“It’s really commendable that (Ryerson) was able to put it into a 100 per cent online model,” she said, adding that Shafi has helped students in her cohort shift to remote practicums.
Edith is currently working with an agency that works with mental health and public health. She said the networking aspect is an invaluable benefit of the practicum experience.
“I’m providing my skills in working with people with mental health issues and I’m also getting to know professional employers,” Edith said.
Likewise, Agafya said the program showed her that there are many career options for non-licenced medical professionals in Canada. “We can still be useful and use our knowledge but from a different angle,” she said, referring to her specialization in project management. “We have the experience to understand the treatment process so we’re able to advise on process and patient improvement based on that.”
Like her former ESL classmates, Edith now has her own positive experience with the ITMD program and highly recommends it to others.
“I would encourage any international doctor looking for a program to jump into the workforce in Canada that this is a great stepping stone.”