NEW DELHI, India, Sep 20 2021 (IPS) - Last year, as the world grappled to survive the Covid-19 Pandemic, Megan Fernandas an accountant living in Toronto, was trying to face her biggest fear, not the COVID-19 virus, but missing her doctor’s appointment after surviving a rigorous fight against stage 2 breast cancer.

Meagan had just gotten back to her normal life when the news of the pandemic hit the world. “I live with my family here in the city and we were all at home, even now we barely go out, so we knew we could ensure not getting infected, but god forbid if I had a health escalation or a reaction to any medication, this was a very stressful time for me.

Dr. Monsura Haque

“We all know how difficult it is to get a doctor’s appointment, sometimes even if it’s an emergency, the wait period can take weeks, and only the lucky ones are able to find a personal physician. My fear was missing my monthly check-ups. This pandemic could ruin it all, just because we can’t get to a doctor on time. I just wish meeting a doctor was a simple and easy process,” says Fernandas.

Fast forward to September 2021, as Canada continues to fight the pandemic, come snap elections, parties have made several pledges to make sure Canada is prepared for the next pandemic – though experts warn “this could be trickier than politicians make it out to be”.

Earlier this month, Toronto-based research group ICES said that between August 29 and September 4, Peel, a region which has cases steadily rising, had the sixth highest positivity rate – 4.46 percent out of 34 public health regions in Ontario, which is Canada’s most populous province. The region has reported more than 114,000 cases since the pandemic began, with over 960 deaths.

The COVID-19 pandemic generated uneven experiences for millions of healthcare workers and physicians across the world. In Canada, with a health system battered by the pandemic, the country has reported more than 1.45 million cases and more than 26, 000 deaths since the pandemic began, according to John Hopkins University data.

What makes this worse is a report in 2019 stated that only 241 physicians per 100,ooo population were available in the country, indicating the sheer overburden on Canada’s health system through this global health crisis.

Dr. Joel Parungao

While there are a lot of discussion on making the integration of Internationally Trained Medical Doctors (ITMD) easier in Canada, Joel Parungao a trained physician from the Philippines with more than 5 years of experience in public health and hospital medicine managed to contribute his bit during the pandemic last year.

Despite experience and qualifications, Parungao joined the Ontario Ministry of Health as a Covid Case Manager.

“This job gave me an opportunity to “be in the frontline,” Parungao says. “A remote work-from-home job and we were deployed to a specific Public Health Unit conducting COVID case investigations and helping them deal with outbreaks. I was able to help the province and the country in fighting the pandemic,” Parungao says in an interview given to IPS News.

Parungao being amongst the very few who played a role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is amongst the 13,000 ITMDs in Canada who despite qualifications and experience are yet to become licensed doctors in the country.

“I am still pursuing my dream to be a licensed doctor here in Canada. It’s difficult, given the amount of time and money you have to invest in just credentials verification, qualifying exams, and other required medical residency training,” says Parungao. “You have to be ready to work in ‘survival jobs’ that are completely out of the medical field at first and then find a way to move to an alternative health profession afterwards,” Parangao says.

One of the key challenges as reported here for ITMDs in Canada remains cost associated with licensing examinations, the CaRMS application process is often a barrier for newcomers. A report states that 47 % of foreign-educated health professionals are either unemployed or employed in non-health related positions that require only a high school diploma.

Dr. Monsura Haque, an international Medical Graduate from Bangladesh with almost 16 years of experience in medical practise says, “there is no doubt that Canada needs more doctors for all types of work, either clinical or alternative pathways. This pandemic reveals that need and the crisis in the healthcare system.”

While Dr. Monsura has no practical experience in clinical settings, with her speciality in Public Health, she volunteered in hospitals and University to gain more experience, while they were excellent opportunities for her, “those settings were really just using volunteers without any remuneration,” Haque says.

Health care systems across the world are undergoing massive challenges, strains and are not without faults. During the pandemic, access concerns, quality of care and the high costs of services which are not covered by insurance or by those who can’t afford it are few common traits across borders. For healthcare professionals the challenge has been access to PPE kits, long exhaustive hours, mental and physical trauma and these issues are further complicated in Canada by just the lack of the number of doctors available per person for COVID and non-COVID related cases.

The cost of healthcare is increasing, and Canada cannot afford to say it is going to focus on health care without including or evening mentioning the pool of ITMDs available and under utilized.

“Integration of ITMDs into the Canadian healthcare system requires a national strategy and approach by government policymakers and other regulatory bodies,” says Dr. Shafi Bhuiyan, ITMDs Canada Network (iCAN) Char and Global Health Expert.

“Canada has the opportunity to make these changes right now, I always say it will be a win-win situation for all. We have a pool of talented ITMDs who are under utilized or leaving their professionals due to such roadblocks. If these changes can be made, and we find a way to include ITMDs into our healthcare system, a lot can be achieved.” says Bhuiyan.