ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey says his government is working to lower barriers for internationally trained doctors as it launches efforts to help newly arrived Ukrainian health-care professionals become licensed.
Furey spoke to reporters Monday after a meeting with several federal ministers and Atlantic Canadian premiers in St. John's, N.L. The aim of the meeting was to discuss growth in the region, but reporter questions inevitably turned to the doctor shortages plaguing all four Atlantic provinces.
The premier said there was "no quick solution" but he and his counterparts agree it should be easier for foreign doctors to practise in the region, in particular family doctors. Furey referred to the "perfect storm" that has meant foreign-trained doctors are facing longer delays to have their credentials recognized at the same time that there is a crying need for physicians.
Furey's remarks came as his government is setting up supports to help newly arrived Ukrainian health-care professionals navigate the province's licensing requirements.
Newfoundland and Labrador was at the forefront of Canadian efforts to relocate Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks, even chartering two planes from Poland to St. John's. But last week, Maryna Sikorska, a Ukrainian doctor who arrived in the province on June 14, said she was frustrated by a lack of communication or guidance from government officials. She said she knew others who felt equally stymied.
Three years ago Newfoundland and Labrador had the second-highest proportion of internationally trained doctors in the country, according to a report by the Canadian Medical Association. The report says about 37 per cent of doctors working in the province in 2019 had been trained in other countries. That number has since fallen to about 29 per cent, a spokesperson from the province's medical association said in an email Monday.
Meanwhile, polling figures released last month from the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association suggest nearly a quarter of the province's 522,875 residents are without a family doctor.
Health Minister Tom Osborne said Monday he met last Thursday with 11 newly arrived Ukrainians with health-care expertise to discuss their concerns. The province has agreed to cover the licensing fees for Ukrainians looking to be certified to practise in the province, and the Department of Health will name a designated person to help them navigate the licensing process, he said in an interview.
Officials will also offer English classes and work to place Ukrainians in health-care jobs while they seek licensing, though the jobs will likely be different from those they are qualified for in Ukraine, Osborne said. The government is looking at providing income support during the licensing process as well, he added.
"We need health-care professionals in this province, and we need to be better and more competitive in order to attract and retain those health-care professionals," Osborne said.
Internationally trained doctors from Ukraine and other countries can help fill that need, he said.
Licensing is a complicated process and involves certification from national and provincial bodies, Osborne said. Applicants must also meet language proficiency requirements.
He said the government is working with regulatory bodies including the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador to be sure the process is accessible without compromising standards of practice.
"We don't want to lower the bar, but we want to lower the barriers," Osborne said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2022.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press