National

New bridging program first of its kind in Ontario

Photo courtesy Shafi Bhuiyan

TORONTO (CUP) — For 14 students at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, the beginning of the new semester also marked the start of a new beginning.

The internationally trained medical doctors (ITMD) bridging program began in January as a first-of-its kind program in Ontario to integrate international medical graduates into the Canadian health care system for non-licensed health care jobs.

Distinguished visiting professor Shafi Bhuiyan developed the program as an alternative for international doctors who are unable to practise as physicians, but are looking to remain in the industry through research and health management positions.

The program, which costs $1,500, consists of 11 weeks in class and four weeks of practicum placement at hospitals and other health organizations like

Toronto Public Health. The most valuable part of the program, according to Bhuiyan, is the internship opportunities.

Bhuiyan said he received 500 letters of intent and 180 full applications but was able to accept only 14 students.

Amir Ahari, a successful applicant, emphasizes how difficult it is for international doctors to succeed in Canada.

“Physicians are intelligent people. They go through lots of training and lots of hours of education. It’s a really good, respectful career so when you immigrate to Canada and you see all the doors closed, you lose your pride,” he said. “You see that what you did is useless here.”

Less than five per cent of international doctors who immigrate to Canada continue to practise medicine, according to Marie Bountrogianni, dean of the Chang School.

“We should be doing a better job in disseminating externally to foreign-trained physicians that coming here does not guarantee them any easy access to their profession,” she said.

Sadia Sohail, a pediatrician from Karachi, Pakistan, is another student of the program. She practised for five years as a physician until she moved to Canada in 2000. She found it difficult at first to make ends meet.

“I actually walked into Canadian Tire and I said, ‘Please give me a job.  Just basic, minimum wage,’ and I got the feedback that I was overqualified,” she said. This was a defining moment for Sohail, who then decided that she’d never give up trying to practise medicine in Canada. She has been working in the health-care field ever since.

Applications for the bridging program closed in November 2014 but Bhuiyan still receives calls from interested individuals.

The program is currently a pilot project. If it’s deemed successful, Bountrogianni will seek funding from the Ontario government to make the program a permanent part of the Chang School.

“It is a huge burst to your ego when you come here and you’re not even (able) to find a job at Canadian Tire,” Sohail said. “It really puts things into perspective, so I think this pilot program will be phenomenal once we move forward and we find jobs in our respective fields. It will really give the program a boost.”