Doctors Within our Borders

By Colin McGregor  

The lack of doctors in Quebec is daily fodder for the media. Fully 1.2 million Quebecers don’t have a family physician at present. Yet there are hundreds, if not thousands, of fully qualified medical degree holders from abroad who can’t practice medicine here.

The exams that the provincial government and the College of Physicians require young doctors to pass in order to work in the system are intimidating at best. There exist at present no government programs specifically integrating doctors from abroad into our health care system. How can we prep medical degree holders from abroad to jump these hurdles?

In the sparse and modest offices of a Saint-Michel not-for-profit group, Les Anges de l’Espoir ACI (the angels of hope), near the Metropolitan Boulevard in Montreal’s north end, a young doctor from Haiti is mounting a crusade to prepare medical degree holders for the rigors of the provincial exam system.

Dr. Wilguens Exume, a graduate of Haiti’s Université Lumière, runs the Orientation Intégration destiné aux Médecins Diplômés hors du Canada et des États-Unis (DHCEU) program. It’s a pilot project designed to support doctors who obtained their degrees outside of Canada and the U.S.

Wilguens is young and idealistic. Instead of practicing medicine himself, he has given himself over to helping others go after their ambitions of donning a white smock.

Is it frustrating to have to qualify again to practice medicine? “Yes, it is frustrating,” Wilguens admits. “It’s not only me, it’s the whole immigrant community.  Don’t want to single myself out.”

To try to correct this doctor shortage, “We fight using the good methods, we respect all the norms of the Canadian system, and we chase our dreams.”   

From Everywhere

There is theoretical and practical knowledge to teach. About half the aspiring doctors who take his course come from North Africa – specifically, Morocco and Algeria. The rest come from just about everywhere else: there are Haitians and Europeans and Africans. Everything is done in French, but some recommended documents are in English – notably, the Toronto Notes and the American USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) guidelines.

Courses sometimes take place over Zoom, and sometimes in clinics. Wilguens’ classes are usually composed of about 30 participants at a time.

Wilguens and his team counsel what to study, as well as other strategies to maximize their chances of success. Outside the workshops, they conduct practice exams called examens blancs often held in a real clinic. Wilguens says that we have partner clinics who donate their space for a day. We simulate an exam,” which consists of 12 stations and a simulated patient. Participants are evaluated on how they handle the simulated patient.

Wilguens’ program also helps participants decide on a specialty. Happily, most choose to become family doctors, where the need is greatest.

The program also includes a simulated interview before the College of Physicians and the universities. Participants learn how to put together a letter of recommendation and a CV – just like anyone looking for a job!

Participants pay a modest fee to keep the program going, to pay for photocopies and the like. Wiguens sheepishly says “we’d like the government to support us a little bit more.” Nonetheless, he says that “we receive a certain amount of recognition because we’ve been able to place many doctors in the health care system.”

Participant pay modest fees to keep the program running, to pay for things like photocopies. “We’re waiting for the government to support us a bit more” says Wilguens sheepishly. Nonetheless, “we enjoy a certain level of recognition for the number of doctors we’ve brought into the health care system.”

Some of the course consists of conferences and workshops conducted by accredited doctors. The doctors, who don’t want to be identified, discreetly give their time and their clinics. “All the doctors who help do it on a volunteer basis,” says Wilguens. “A doctor who works until 5 p. and then participates in our course at 7 p.m. believes in our mission. They want to be there. They are present and faithfully at their post. There’s a commitment level, and a desire to be there.”

In 2022, Wilguens is proud to say that 100% of participants passed their exams to become doctors.

What does Wilguens himself get out of the program? “A feeling of well-being, when you serve a cause that is greater than yourself,” he says. “Bringing about a change in the lives of others, that’s my satisfaction.”

This plucky little non-profit Les Anges de l’Espoir ACI runs several programs. They work with families, senior citizens, children, teens, victims of conjugal violence and immigrants, among others. They are full of projects. A necessity for the Saint Michel neighborhood.

Next on Wilguens’ wish list is to obtain 30 computers so that his program participants can write simulated exams at the same time.  And for that he will need financial support.

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