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CONTRIBUTION · 18th June 2012

The Society for Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad (SOCSMA) is calling on the University of British Columbia and its President, Stephen Toope, to change its policy of selling postgraduate medical residency training to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States instead of making that training capacity available to more BC graduates of international medical schools who would be able to practice medicine in BC.

For years, UBC has only made a handful of residencies available to British Columbians who graduate from foreign medical schools in such countries as Ireland, England and Australia, while also making them write numerous qualifying exams and wait more than a year before they can even apply for a residency. According to UBC Dean of Medicine Dr. Gavin Stuart, one reason for limiting this access is that UBC simply lacks the teaching capacity to accommodate more residencies.

But, for at least the past 20 years, UBC has been selling dozens of residencies each year to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states such as Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, under contracts that provide the university with approximately $75,000 per student. In addition, while the BC graduates are eager to practice medicine here at home, the foreign students who purchase residencies from UBC will never practice medicine in BC because they are required by the terms of their contracts and visas to return home.

SOCSMA, whose members include doctors working at UBC, says the problem is not that UBC lacks training capacity but that by selling residencies to non-British Columbians we are wasting capacity and not addressing the urgent needs of British Columbians.

"UBC could be putting dozens of new doctors in BC communities each year," says SOCSMA President Dr. Andrew Thompson. "Instead, it's created a system that discourages brilliant students from even considering applying to UBC. Many of these students have graduated with top marks in the 99th percentile from top-rated schools in Australia, Britain, New Zealand and Ireland. The current UBC system even lets numerous residencies around the province go unfilled while these BC graduates of excellent medical schools abroad go to other provinces, or to the USA. All of this happens while UBC sells residencies to Gulf States for what we believe is around $75,000 per student.

"While we recognize that UBC benefits financially from this arrangement, and that Middle Eastern countries benefit by having doctors with Canadian training, we believe it's a policy that is costing the Province in the long run. When British Columbians and smaller communities across the province don't have access to the family doctors and specialists they need, it affects every aspect of our health care system and results in significantly higher health care costs due to increased overtime, wait times, travel, administration and the deteriorating health of patients. The numbers simply don't add up.

“UBC, which is a taxpayer-funded institution, seems to have its priorities turned upside down in pursuit of this offshore revenue. At a time when British Columbians are facing doctor shortages in virtually every community across the province, UBC needs to be transparent and reveal how many residencies they are selling and for what price. British Columbians also deserve to hear why UBC favours a policy that in the long run hurts the health of our province.

"UBC and the Province should not be turning away highly skilled BC students who want to come home, start families and become hardworking tax-paying members of their communities.”

The Society for Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad (SOCSMA) is a group of parents, families and supporters of BC students studying medicine abroad.