Red tape holds up Alberni born doctors

Academic red tape is denying Alberni medical students who studyied abroad the chance to return home and practice medicine.

Academic red tape is denying an Alberni medical student studying abroad the chance to return home and practice medicine.

Former Port Alberni resident Siobhan Holland, 26, is in her fourth and final year of studying medicine at Wollongong University in Australia and is set to graduate this December.

She went to Australia after graduating from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology.

Only 250 out of 2,000 applicants to UBC’s medical school get in, said Siobhan’s father, Dr. Tony Holland, a local anesthesiologist.

Others wait another year or two to reapply to the program “but that’s a big hole in a young person’s life when they’re 25.”

Instead of wading through the scrum to get in, Siobhan chose instead to study at Wollongong, whose academic standing and training is as high as UBC’s, Tony said.

After graduating, Siobhan has a choice of working in New Zealand, Australia, England or the United States. But she would return to work in B.C. to be near family and friends, Tony said.

Siobhan isn’t the only medical student from Port Alberni who studied abroad. According to Tony, three medical professionals in town have children who studied medicine abroad.

One studied in Czechoslovakia and now works as a general practitioner on the Lower Mainland. “He’s one of the lucky ones,” Tony said. “I think many of them think coming back to B.C. is a lost cause.”

The problem is that there are so few opportunities available to Canadian residents who study and are accredited abroad.

The problem lies with the number of residencies available, said Dr. Drew Thompson, a cardiac surgeon and president of the Society for Canadian Students Studying Medicine Abroad.

The Ministry of Health reserves 300 residencies for Canadian and American students who graduate from North American schools.

Holland and 80–100 other B.C. students who study abroad are left to jostle for 26 slots made available through UBC’s International Medical School Graduates Program.

But the exams to qualify for the positions are given after regular residency positions have been given out. “We know of no British Columbia graduates from abroad who have been accepted in and graduated from this program,” Thompson said.

“There’s a feeling amongst a good lot of them that they are being actively discriminated against,” Tony said.

The situation will only change if more money is made available to fund more positions for students and the number of residencies is increased to accommodate foreign trained B.C. students.

And an institutional attitude change is in order as well. “Graduates from overseas are every bit as educated and every bit as good clinically as UBC’s,” Tony said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com