On September 20, CBC hosted a virtual town Hall with BC Health Minister Adrian Dix, as part of its Situation Critical series on the barriers British Columbians face in accessing timely and appropriate health care, on the province’ health care crisis: about a million without family doctors, hospitals operating over-capacity, some rural hospitals forced to close down, ambulances unable to respond to 911 calls, and five to eight hours of wait times in emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. All these because they have been seriously short-staffed and demands from patients have been overwhelming.
A similar situation exists in other provinces. Yet, there are hundreds of foreign-trained health care practitioners in BC and other provinces – many of them Asians – who are employed in odd jobs because of the prohibitive requirements to get licensed to practice their professions in Canada.
According to the 2011 National Household Survey, Asia (including the Middle East) was Canada's largest source of immigrants between 2006 and 2011, with the Philippine being the leading country, and constituted nearly two-thirds (63.5 percent) of newcomers during the years 2017 to 2019.
If this trend continues, in a few more years the Philippines may be able to surpass both India and China in supplying Canada with competent, caring, highly educated, professional, industrious Filipinos with exemplary work ethics who will hit the ground running when they arrive.
The image of Filipinos in Canada is very positive due to (a) the ease with which they integrate into Canadian society; (b) the contributions they make to Canadian economic development and social life; and (c) their strong work ethic and other laudable personal attributes.
Most Canadians appreciate the fact that Filipinos integrate seamlessly into their adopted society. Filipinos are seen as joiners and readily participate in community activities focused on the church, schools, clubs, and athletics. They are quick to contribute songs, dances, food and other things to community life. Filipinos do not keep to themselves but easily interact with others, aided greatly by their English language competence and self-confidence. They are increasingly playing an active part in Canadian politics and political parties are tapping them as active supporters.
In January 2021, 20 percent of employed Canadian Filipinos worked in the health care and social assistance industry, compared with 14 percent of all workers. Filipinos are in this kind of work because it is in their nature to help.
Their nation’s history has made them ideal doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and nurses. Unfortunately, their degrees acquired in the Philippines are not fully recognized in Canada.
With a shortage of doctors, nurses, and other health care providers to deal with the onslaught of COVID-19 and its variants and the ever-increasing demands for health care services for other ill-health conditions in the foreseeable future, it’s time for Canada to give them a chance to show what they can do to prove their worth. The crucial barriers to foreign-trained health care providers are the certification or accrediting processes that are lengthy, complex, and costly; not to mention the need for an alternative source of financial support to the family while undergoing and fulfilling these requirements for accreditation.
Many Philippine-trained Canadian Filipino health workers have already proven their worth in the last two years of COVID- 19 onslaught. There are still many more nurses, med technicians, pharmacists, even doctors, who are already in Canada doing low-income work because they cannot afford the costs of retraining and accreditation.
To increase the number of licensed health practitioners in Canada, the government must mobilize unlicensed foreign-trained health practitioners who are already in Canada by making their retraining and accreditation affordable, fair and orderly. Better still, offer them free review courses and qualifying examinations, practical tests and training programs conducted by licensed supervisors. While undergoing retraining, they should be given sufficient financial support as in apprenticeships or internships so they can show what they know and can do to practice their professions in Canada. All this a doable solution to Canada’s critical health situation! Not to maximize the full potential of immigrant health care professionals is a loss not only to them but also to the country they call home.