Immigration requirements are driving new doctors away from N.S., says medical resident

CBC News

Nicola Seguin · CBC News · Posted: Jan 25, 2023

Abhinaya Yeddala's plan to become a family doctor and build a life in Nova Scotia is coming to fruition — but she says she nearly gave up and left the province because of a requirement that added more than two years to the process. 

Yeddala, originally from India, is now a family medicine resident at a clinic in New Glasgow. She completed her undergraduate degree in the United Kingdom before moving to Malaysia to begin medical school. After two years, she transferred to Dalhousie University, and became a Canadian medical graduate in 2019.

But she had to wait almost two and a half years before taking the next step in her career, thanks to a requirement now in effect in most Canadian provinces that she obtain permanent resident status before applying for her medical residency.

She said that tedious and lengthy process almost drove her away.

"It was very stressful, it was very frustrating," Yeddala said. "There was this fear of what happens if I don't get what I want in Canada, what do I do then? So a lot of uncertainty because there was no guarantee."

Abrupt shift for medical residents

According to the Canadian Resident Matching Service, every province is responsible for its own additional eligibility criteria. Currently, every province except Quebec accepts only Canadian citizens or permanent residents. Quebec also accepts U.S. citizens and visa students. 

When Yeddala and her classmates first decided to come to Canada, the International Medical University in Malaysia had an agreement with Dalhousie University to send approximately five students per year to complete their studies in Atlantic Canada. Yeddala said she and her classmates hoped to do their medical residency through Memorial University in Newfoundland.

Yeddala said at the time, Newfoundland and Labrador didn't require permanent resident status for international students beginning their residency. This practice was abruptly changed before she graduated, forcing the students to decide between trying for permanent residency — or leaving the country. 

"They were frustrated because they all came in wanting to be a doctor in Canada, otherwise they would have chosen the U.K.," she said. "They had other options … they chose this, particularly so they could stay back in Canada."

'Everybody is listening'

Yeddala said she worked research jobs and waited for her permanent residency because she planned to get married and put down roots in Nova Scotia. But it was a different story for most of her classmates who didn't have Canadian citizenship.

"Everybody who graduated with me apart from [one student] left," she said. "That's 18 doctors who we lost from Nova Scotia especially, so that's pretty unfortunate."

Though she is already through the most difficult part of the process, Yeddala said she wants to speak up for others. She said the current health-care crisis in the province and family doctor shortage is driving her to seek change. 

"I feel like at this point in time, when there's a crisis and when everybody's talking about it, I think it's the right time to talk because everybody is listening."

Abhinaya Yeddala, a family medicine resident originally from India, says the immigration status required for medical graduates to begin their residency in Canada is driving doctors away from Nova Scotia.

Not clear whether province will make changes

Yeddala said it's easier for international students to begin their residency in the U.K. or the U.S. In the U.S., once a student is matched with a residency position, they get help working on their immigration status. 

"Which is very different than here because they want the immigration status first," she said. 

"Which is a catch-22 because if you don't have the job, the immigration status is not going to happen." 

CBC asked the provincial Department of Health and Wellness and the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment if there is any intent to change the requirements to make it easier for Canadian medical graduates without Canadian citizenship to do their medical residency in Nova Scotia, but a spokesperson would not say. 

Khalehla Perrault wrote in an email that the demand for residency seats is high, and that all of the 113 seats funded by the province last year were filled.

The province is funding 129 seats in 2023.

Perrault said staff from the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment are happy to speak to medical school graduates interested in working in the province's health-care system.

"We want to hear about the barriers they face so we can better understand if changes are needed," she wrote.

'They want to make Canada home'

Yeddala said she has been working behind the scenes for years to try to have exceptions granted or to see policy change in Nova Scotia. She has spoken to politicians, universities, and even the Canadian Resident Matching Service, without success.

But she said she's happy to see a recent increase in communication between the province and health-care stakeholders, and hopes that international doctors are considered as part of the solution. 

"They're here for a reason, they want to make Canada home," she said. "They're not here to just get training and leave. A lot of people are desperate to work as doctors here and the province is desperate to have doctors, so there is a match."