MONTREAL—A shortage in the number of residency programs for Canadian medical school graduates is set to triple in the coming years, potentially jeopardizing the career paths of hundreds of future doctors, a new report warns.
After almost a year spent studying the matter, the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada recommends that provincial health ministries boost funding to create additional residency spots. And Canadian medical school graduates should get priority access to those spots over graduates coming from foreign schools.
If nothing is done, the AFMC warns, the backlog of students caught between the classroom and the operating room will only continue to grow. From 114 unmatched Canadian medical graduates in 2017, the figure could climb to more than 330 in 2021 if no corrective action is taken.
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“The situation is projected to worsen,” says the AFMC, which represents 17 Canadian medical schools.
“Collective immediate action is required to reverse the trend of unmatched Canadian medical graduates.”
The problem of Canadian medical school graduates who are prevented from completing the final step in their training was highlighted last June when the Star detailed the tragic case of Dr. Robert Chu.
A brilliant young student, Chu graduated from McMaster University but was turned down two years in a row for a residency program. He tried in vain to expose the problems in the Canadian Resident Matching Service, a national program used to match medical school graduates to available residency spots, but took his life on Sept. 5, 2016.
His death shook the community of medical schools and students that jointly run the residency matching program, which uses an algorithm to match students’ top choices with those of the residency program directors who interview students for the positions.
In the wake of the report on Chu, the Star spoke to numerous other students who had been passed over for residency programs, often because of their application strategies rather than their medical abilities. Some had applied for competitive residency programs and not to others that would more likely have resulted them being picked.
Many complained about the almost complete lack of feedback from the application and two-round matching process, which denied them insights into what had gone wrong in their cases. Others spoke of the shame and stigma of not matching for a residency program, as well as the absence of support from the medical community while they wait another year to apply again.
The AFMC report is recommending changes that will correct some of these issues, including:
- That there be a national minimum of 110 residency spots for every 110 Canadian medical school graduates. Recent cuts to provincial funding have resulted in that ration dropping to 102 spots for every 100 students in 2017.
- That Canadian medical school graduates be given priority for residency spots in the second round of the matching process, in which they currently must compete with graduates from international schools.
- That Canadian medical faculties establish policies and procedures to support unmatched graduates, such as allowing them to complete a 5th year of medical school, which would allow them to brush up on their skills and experiences while re-applying to residency programs.
- That provinces commit to a one-time boost in funding for residency programs in order to clear the backlog and buy time to implement longer-term solutions.