Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A place to practise

Province attracts physicians from Africa

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WHEN Dr. Ansa de Bruyn left the eastern cape of South Africa with her husband 12 years ago, it was only for a brief stint abroad.

Many of her relatives and friends had already left -- or planned to leave -- the country they felt was unsafe. One of de Bruyn's friends spoke with a Canadian recruiter, and she said they decided to move to Brandon instead of Britain.

"We did it as an adventure," she said. "The plan initially was just to come for two years. Then we stayed, and we stayed a bit longer, and we're still here."

The emergency-room physician came to Manitoba at a time when recruiters tried to convince South African doctors to uproot to Canada and help reduce the doctor shortage in cities and towns across the country. In the last decade, Manitoba registered 309 new physicians from Africa -- the largest number of new doctors from any region outside Canada.

While communities such as Brandon have become hubs for ex-pats, health officials say many rural communities still struggle to keep African doctors and other foreign-trained physicians once they become fully licensed. It's a phenomenon regulators worry will continue -- and possibly worsen -- when Canada moves toward new rules that will allow foreign-trained doctors to practise anywhere in the country once they obtain a conditional medical licence.

"It's going to happen to Newfoundland and Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the classic provinces where that has happened," said Dr. Bill Pope, Manitoba's College of Physicians and Surgeons registrar.

"It will continue to be that way until there are enough doctors in every province."

Twelve years ago, the bulk of African-trained doctors who moved here were from South Africa. It was a fairly easy transition, since the province granted medical licences to physicians from South Africa after they passed a written exam.

South African doctors were sought-after because their rigorous medical training included stints in rural communities, which made the transition to small towns easier. Eventually, heavy recruitment prompted backlash from South African officials who pleaded with countries such as Canada to stop poaching their physicians.

Provincial rules changed in 2003 after a human rights challenge, and all international medical graduates from any country were allowed to receive a conditional medical licence after they passed an exam.

Today, Pope said, few South African doctors move to Manitoba. The bulk of new physicians are from North African countries such as Egypt and Libya. The regulatory body's 2011 data shows only three per cent of the total physician population in Winnipeg originated from Africa, compared to 15 per cent in Brandon and 17 per cent in rural Manitoba.

Pope said Brandon and Thompson have better retention rates, in part due to the fact there is a larger community of African physicians.

Right now, foreign-trained doctors can only practise in the province where they obtain a conditional medical licence. Pope said forthcoming regulations will eventually allow them to practise anywhere in the country once they obtain a conditional licence.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2012 0

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