The Alberta College of Surgeons and Physicans recently change standards for licensing of foreign physicians in Alberta. Rural Alberta hires primarily physicians from South Africa and the new standards have raised, at least by one member of Parliament, Brian Storseth, Member of Parliament for Westlock-St. Paul.
"It's a big issue in rural Alberta" said Storseth. "I believe they (the College) made a mistake in doing this. We have over 600 trained South African doctors (in Alberta). We had three or four coming to Lakeland that went to Saskatchewan instead. I'm public
Brian Storseth has also started a mail campaign asking his constituents to write the college to change this rule. His letter to constituents apprises the public of a change of rules but did not provide details, leaving a phone number to call his office for further information. The office was called to get additonal information and unfortunately they were unable to provide a satisfactory explanation. A research of the website for the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons yielded no results either.
A local newspaper, "The Review" published on March 15th, provided an explanation of the new rules. According to the review, as of September South African Doctors require two and a half months of additonal clinical assessment. During this period they can not bill Alberta Health Care for their services. The clinical assessment period is followed by a three months practial assessment and probation period. Previous standards only required a two week clinical assessment.
Since this author is one of those served by South African doctors, it is of course a major concern. As a client of Albeta Health Care, it is prudent that the service of those physicians can be trusted. As such it is essential that these doctors meet the standards required of Canadian doctors.
Having lost confidence in a previous South African doctor, I recently changed physicians. From a clients point of view, follow up was lacking, for whatever reason, even if it was perception on my part. The new South African physician has not disappointed.
To try to get a clearer picture on what South African doctors thought of these issues, the new physician, who wishes to remain anonymous, was queried. In the opinion of that doctor, he felt that prior to 2000 the standards of training of South African doctors was equal to that of Candian standards. In his opinion the standards in South Africa had dropped since then and he felt that the new assessment period made sense.
The Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons communications manager, Kelly Eby, said that the standards were changed in September.
"It is possible it (the changes) will make it more of a challenge to communities.
Eby said that these changes were made following a review by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, which set licensing standards for Canadain doctors. During a survey of standards of physician training in other countries. South Africa declined to participate.
"As a licensing body we err on the side of caution", Eby said. She noted that one of the challenges during the assessment period, for the rural communities is the inability for doctors to bill Alberta Health Care.
Eby also pointed out that clarification of the rule of the requirement of two years post graduate training was also made. In the past eight months of community service was accepted as part of the two year requirement. This can no longer be done.
While Brian Storseth's concerns are valid and deal more with funding rather than standards, the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons has the standars part right. Government has to solve the problem of attracting South Africans by providing some sort of bridge payments. It is unreasonable to expect physicians to live in a new country without pay.
Brian Storseth should address this issue with his own government and the Alberta government. Standards need necessarily be high. We have enough problems within the Alberta Health Care system, without creating new ones.