Careers in Canada

What is an International Medical Graduate?

International medical graduates, or IMGs, are people who immigrated to Canada and received their Doctor of Medicine degree from medical schools outside of Canada or the United States.

International medical graduates, or IMGs, are people who immigrated to Canada and received their Doctor of Medicine degree from medical schools outside of Canada or the United States.

There are two groups of IMGs, and they are:

  1. Immigrant IMGs who graduated from medical schools abroad and/or practiced elsewhere before moving to Canada
  2. Canadians who left Canada to study medicine abroad

Long ago, newcomer physicians immigrated to Canada under the Federal Skilled Worker Program, but this profession was eventually taken out from the eligibility list. 

But despite this change in the policy, there are still several IMGs moving to Canada.

international medical graduates

How many immigrant doctors are there in Canada?

Well, lucky for you, I have statistics for that! I looked into the data available in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). I found the top five source countries of immigrant doctors in 2018:

  • India – 2,163
  • Ireland – 1884
  • Egypt – 1145
  • Pakistan – 1023
  • Nigeria – 825

And here’s another data you might find interesting:

I checked the number of foreign doctors who were given the authority to practice in Canada during that same year (2018), and here are the top sources of IMGs:

  • Ireland – 346
  • India – 188
  • Australia – 164
  • Iran – 109
  • Netherlands – 109

Now that you have a glimpse of the real numbers reflecting immigrant IMGs in Canada. How about taking a look at the second group of IMGs?

Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad (CSAs)

Here’s a quote from an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, “Almost 150 schools in over 60 countries are training Canadian students.” Woah! CSAs are also coming from around the world!

There are like 4000 Canadian citizens studying medicine from other countries. And the most common destination is Caribbean-based schools. These schools, however, do not offer affiliated clerkship or residency positions to CSAs. That is why CSAs tend to do postgraduate training mostly in the United States or in the student’s country of origin.

Let’s say these CSAs have completed their postgraduate training. What is their next step? 

More than 90% of them are planning to go back to Canada to apply for residency training. Yes, I can hear you. They add up in the competition for the position you are hoping for!

Now, let us jump on to the challenges faced by international medical graduates (IMGs).

The challenges to enter the Canadian healthcare system

Too many applicants, very few residency positions

Back in 2011, there are 191 first-year residency positions designated for IMGs. Eighty positions were for Family Medicine residency, and the rest of it goes to various specialty programs. 

Wait, can we go back on the numbers again? 191 available residency positions for IMGs per year. And thousands of IMGs coming into Canada every year. With that vast difference, there’s really going to be several IMGs that, unfortunately, won’t be able to continue their profession in Canada.

Oh, and here’s a fact for you:

Residency positions are not the only competing arena for aspiring doctors. You will also see the same scenario in Canadian medical schools. For example, 900 to 1100 applicants are vying for 108 first-year medicine student positions at Dalhousie University. This could be one of the reasons why CSAs study medicine abroad.

Costly application

There are fees that you have to cover. Your initial expense will probably be the credential assessment, which is roughly $300 in International Credential Assessment Service (ICAS) of Canada.

The application fees for each exam are ranging from $1300 to $2830. There are also administrative fees that are worth almost $1500 per examination.

How do you think a newcomer immigrant who is unemployed or underemployed would be able to pay those fees? If you have a good source of income abroad or regular financial support, the expense won’t be a problem.

But what about those who need to put food on their family’s table? What about those who need to send money home? The fees will become a barricade to continue their professions in Canada.

Lengthy process

From the assessment of credentials to completing the residency program, the journey to getting that license will be really a long way for any applicants. There are no shortcuts. The faculties of medicine are dedicated to selecting the best among the applicants. They need to answer who is ‘most likely to succeed in the program and beyond.’

The bottom line

Most international medical graduates believe that being a doctor is their true calling. Many IMGs show a high commitment to pursuing their medical careers in Canada. Do you think you have what it takes to be selected as one of the IMGs to fill in the limited residency positions?

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1 comment

  1. Remember the song…
    The Long and Winding Road.
    The Medical Profession by the immigrants are in ” as if you are aiming your arrow at dark.”

    Good Luck!


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