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Politics Military aims to alleviate doctor shortage by increasing number of sponsored residents

Physician technician, Warrant Officer Dina Trussler and doctor, Captain Jonathan Bishop from the Canadian Armed Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team treat a patient in the village of Balephi, Sindhupalchok District in Nepal, during Operation RENAISSANCE 15-1, on May 10, 2015.

MCpl Cynthia Wilkinson

The Canadian military is hoping to alleviate its own doctor shortage and give peace of mind to many of the more than 100 medical graduates who were shut out of residency placements this year, by nearly tripling the number of residents it sponsors in return for joining its ranks.

Lieutenant-General Charles Lamarre, the head of Military Personnel Command, has agreed to increase the number of residents whose training will be paid by the military from 18 to 50.

The decision comes as 115 of this year’s Canadian medical-school graduates are grappling with the fact that they have not secured a provincially sponsored place in one of the country’s 17 university-run resident programs, which entail two to five years of hands-on training and must be completed before they can practise as doctors.

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The military is 56 doctors short of its full complement and will sponsor graduates who are interested in becoming family physicians – a field that requires two years of residency. In return, the doctors will be expected to join the Canadian Armed Forces and to serve at least four years as military doctors when their training is completed.

“We’re talking over 100 kids who will not be able to get a matched residency this year. So, for them, it’s a terrible story because they have done four hard years of studying in medicine and usually another degree before that,” Lt.-Gen. Lamarre said in a recent interview in his Ottawa office.

He has asked the military’s Surgeon-General, Brigadier-General Andrew Downes, to connect with the faculties of medicine across Canada to see how many additional med-school graduates can be absorbed into residency programs for family physicians starting in September.

“This is addressing a shortfall that we have for us. And it’s an exciting time,” given the military operations that Canada is performing around the world in places such as Iraq, Ukraine and the looming peacekeeping mission to Mali, Lt.-Gen. Lamarre said.

It is also a “sweet deal” for the graduates, he said. Not only will they get the residency placement they need to start their careers, they will be given a signing bonus of at least $150,000. And, while they are residents, they will earn a salary of between $65,000 and $70,000, which is higher than the Canadian average of just under $61,000.

They will have to pass a physical fitness test – one that Lt.-Gen. Lamarre and Brig.-Gen. Downes say is not onerous – as well as a medical test and a security clearance.

Nationally, there were 3,308 residency placements available this year. Among the reasons that some have gone unfulfilled is a mismatch between the types of residencies that graduates wanted and the positions that are available. There are also a large number of positions that remain vacant in Quebec, where residents must be able to speak French.

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“It certainly is great that the military is considering helping us fund more residency positions,” said Geneviève Moineau, the president of the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada. “Understanding that the military is in need of more physicians, this obviously is a circumstance where it would be a win-win for all.”

Brig.-Gen. Downes said the military-sponsored residents are not expected to perform duties with the Canadian Forces while they are in the residency program.

But, when that is completed, he said, they must go through basic training as well as a medical-officer course that will fill in gaps between their medical training and the training required of a military medical officer.

After residency, “they come and they do medicine looking after our men and women,” Lt.-Gen. Lamarre said. “It could be anywhere across Canada or on deployed operations. And, if they really like it, and they get a feel for it, they stick around.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadian troops involved in a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali will be well equipped and receive all necessary training. Trudeau defended his choice of mission in the House of Commons on Monday. The Canadian Press
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