Medical residents on frontlines of pandemic face obstacles in becoming fully licensed doctors
TORONTO -- Thousands of medical residents who have been working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic are facing continued administrative delays preventing them from becoming fully licensed physicians.
Residents have been thwarted from taking the key qualifying exam known as the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination (MCCQE) Part II, as it has been delayed several times since May 2020 due to COVID-19 public health restrictions.
Most were granted provisional licenses but are still required to pass the exam, which assesses the knowledge, skills and behaviours required by Canadian physicians and typically entails residents carrying out physical examinations on actors portraying patients. The MCCQE exam is among the requirements for provincial and territorial licensing bodies.
In a statement emailed to CTV National News, the Medical Council of Canada said “with the cancellation of the MCCQE Part II we will continue to work with the Assessment Innovation Task Force, the medical community and partner organizations to reflect on how clinical skills and emerging competences required of physicians will be assessed in the future.”
Attempts to make the exam virtual were scrapped last month, and some residents have been waiting months for the nearly $3,000 fee to be refunded for a test they never took -- money they say could have been used during the pandemic.
“We could have been using that money to pay for rent, pay for many things, even just pay down our debt a little bit because that's quite significant,” said Dr. Patrick Hemmons, a resident working in Prince George, B.C., to CTV National News.
For many residents, the frustration of working in a stressful and volatile environment on the frontlines of a pandemic that has stretched Canada’s health system, while not being able to get their licence, can’t be ignored.
“We’re the ones who are working the 100-hour weeks,” said third-year internal medicine resident Salpy Kelian at the University of British Columbia to CTV National News. “We’re the ones working all night long.”
“Many of us are in a state of limbo, uncertainty,” Hemmons said.
Some residents say the continued postponing of the exam has not only cost them monetarily, but professionally -- denying them career opportunities like opening their own practices, which feeds into Canada’s physician shortage.
“We've got a cohort that's ready to work, that's able to work and eager to work and a bunch of Canadians need new physicians…we're going through a health crisis at the same time, and yet we've got this group that can't properly launch their careers,” said family doctor Dr. Michelle Cohen of Brighton, Ont., to CTV National News.
The test itself has also come under fire for requiring a mandatory bed-side evaluation some doctors say is obsolete.
“We’re still forcing them to do the same exam that hasn’t been relevant since the mid-‘90s,” Cohen explained, adding that the test was originally made to establish a standardized way of evaluating medical residents. Now that all Canadian medical schools are accredited and “are roughly the same standard,” Cohen believes it’s no longer necessary.
The Medical Council of Canada recently developed new criteria for residents affected by the examinations’ delay, saying those affected by the pandemic will be granted certificates so they can be licensed as physicians – but they will have to pay a fee. In their emailed statement the Medical Council of Canada told CTV National News that their finance committee plans to meet at the end of June “to determine the fee that will be applied” to cover the costs.