A series of new measures to bring more internationally trained doctors to British Columbia represent significant changes that will make a difference in the lives of people receiving primary care, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Sunday.
"We know our province needs more physicians in the short, and in the long term. And these actions, historic actions today, will help address that need in a meaningful way," Dix told a news conference announcing the changes.
Dix joined Premier David Eby, who said the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed challenges and added further strains in the health-care system, with too many B.C. residents struggling to find a family doctor.
In response, he said B.C. is taking action to get more internationally trained doctors "off the sidelines and into clinics, where they're so desperately needed."
Eby announced the province is expanding the number of seats available in the Practice Ready Assessment program to 96 by March 2024, tripling the number of internationally-trained family doctors who can become licensed in B.C. each year.
Sixteen of those spaces will be reserved for doctors assigned to rural and remote communities throughout the province, Dix noted, while another 16 could be directed to either rural or urban and suburban areas in need.
In another change, Eby said international medical graduates who are not eligible to be fully or provisionally licensed in B.C. may now be eligible for a new "associate physician" class of registration with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C.
That would allow them to care for patients under the supervision of an attending physician within acute-care settings administered by health authorities, he said.
Eby said the regulatory college is also preparing bylaw changes to allow doctors trained in the United States for three years to practise in community settings in B.C., including urgent and primary care centres, community clinics and family practices.
The bylaw changes are expected to be implemented in the coming weeks, with the aim of allowing those doctors to practise in B.C. communities by January.
The strains B.C.'s health-care system are experiencing are not unique, with other provinces experiencing similar challenges, Eby noted.
Some, he said, are proposing to respond to that stress by undercutting the principles of universal public health care and promoting an approach that would allow the wealthiest to buy their way to the front of the health-care line.
"Buying doesn't solve the line, it just changes who gets care first," Eby said.
"We can't privatize our way to a better health-care system."