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British-trained MDs a disappearing breed in Canada

Physicians who trained in the United Kingdom (UK) before hanging their shingle in Canada have been a prominent part of Canadian medicine since the 19th century, and their impact is still being felt. For instance, three of the CMA’s last 11 presidents were trained at British medical schools.

However, new data compiled by the CMA’s Canadian Collaborative Centre for Physician Resources (C3PR) reveal that British MDs are a vanishing breed in Canada, with their number dropping by 59% since 1996. Today there are only 2,157 British-trained physicians practising here, and they account for only 11% of total international medical graduates (IMGs). In 1996, they accounted for one-quarter (25.3%) of all IMGs practising here.

The changes don’t surprise Lynda Buske, the C3PR manager. “What we’re seeing is a simple reflection of international migration patterns,” she says. “The number of arrivals from the UK is down, but those doctors have been replaced by IMGs from other countries. For instance, since 1996 there has been a three-fold increase in the number of physicians trained in Pakistan who now practise in Canada.”

Buske noted that doctors trained in South Africa (2,614) now outnumber their British-trained colleagues in Canada (2,157) by a significant and growing margin. Overall, IMGs account for roughly a quarter of Canada’s practising physicians, a proportion that has remained relatively constant for at least 25 years.

However, the data were much different 60 years ago, when Canada began importing large numbers of doctors from the United Kingdom to make up for shortages here. The Journal of Canadian Studies reported recently that close to 5,000 British doctors arrived in Canada between 1954 and 1970. When that influx started, Canadian medical schools were producing fewer than 950 doctors annually, compared with more than 2,700 today.

“Immigration patterns are always in flux,” said Buske. “We’ll be looking at new patterns a decade from now too.”

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.