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Canadian doctors on COVID-19 front line face 'unprecedented regulatory bottleneck'

(Courtesy Pexels: Anna Shvets)

Resident doctors want colleges to waive final certification exams

Colleges delayed exams amid COVID-19 pandemic

New doctors will be able to get provisional licences while they await fall exams

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Thousands of Canadian doctors are being prevented from serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to the best of their abilities, according to a group calling itself Canada’s Concerned Specialist and Family Residents (CCSFR).

The group is raising concerns about the decision by two national doctors’ colleges who have postponed annual exams for residents finishing their final year of training.

“Canada is facing an unprecedented public health crisis and Canada’s resident physicians are ready to act,” CCSFR wrote. “However, they face an unprecedented regulatory bottleneck and distraction from patient care imposed by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada.”

Both colleges now intend to hold the exams in the fall, saying in-person examinations requiring travel were inadvisable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keeping doctors ‘focused on caring for Canadians’

Rather than delay exams – and thereby disrupt the life plans of new doctors and prevent them from practising unsupervised during the pandemic – the group is urging the colleges to waive the need for examinations for residents on track to successfully complete their training.

“Our proposal is simple, effective and keeps physicians on the front lines, focused on caring for Canadians,” the group wrote.

But it’s not that simple, according to Dr. Susan Moffatt-Bruce, CEO of Royal College, which was set to test more than 2,000 residents this spring.

The colleges don’t have the power to waive the need for exams, she told NEWS 1130. That’s up to regulatory bodies in individual provinces.

Those regulators, however, understand the need to have as many doctors as possible on the front lines and are allowing for provisional licences so residents can practise outside teaching hospitals.

‘We need to get these good and well-trained doctors to the patients’

“I do think, in this instance, considering the crisis and considering that we need to get these good and well-trained doctors to the patients, the medical regulatory authorities will be very helpful,” Moffat-Bruce said.

“So [residents] will be able to deliver the needed care that they would be providing.”

The College of Family Physicians was unable to provide a representative for an interview, but the organization shared a copy of a letter sent to residents, explaining the reasons for the delay in examinations.

The letter assures residents they will be able to acquire provisional licences allowing them to “practise the full scope of family medicine” between now and exams rescheduled for October.

The college acknowledged the call by some to cancel exams altogether.

“Including the exam as part of the college’s certification system is considered the gold standard in a multi-input and robust system of assessment,” the letter says.

Before Royal College decided to delay this year’s exams, an Edmonton urology resident, Dr. Dylan Hoare, started a petition calling on the college to explore alternatives to in-person oral exams, such as conducting them via video conferencing or allowing residency supervisors to administer tests.

Moffat-Bruce said Royal College’s current plan to hold exams in September could change and that she is aware of proposals for a different approach.

“We’re looking at all alternatives still,” she said.