IMGs still ready, willing, and able to fight COVID-19

Malcolm M MacFarlane1

1Volunteer, Society of Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad (SOCASMA), Ontario, Canada

Back in April 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, International Medical Graduates (IMGs) offered their services in the fight against COVID-19.1 Despite this offer, few IMGs have been inducted into the battle,2, 3 and hospitals and Long-Term Care homes continue to struggle with staff shortages.4

In an effort to assess continuing IMG interest in assisting with the pandemic in Ontario, the Society of Canadians Studying Medicine Abroad (SOCASMA) informally surveyed its members.

In less than a week, a total of 63 responses were received; 83% of respondents were resident in Canada, 63% were in Ontario, 92% of respondents were ready and willing to go to work in Ontario as Supportive Physicians and in other roles, and 43% of respondents indicate they would be glad to accept work in other provinces.

This potential workforce is well qualified with 92% already graduated from medical school; half of them having graduated in the past five years. A total of 62% are currently licensed to practice medicine in other countries, and 56% have practiced medicine in the past five years.

Why are we not making use of this valuable resource? Indeed, why does this valuable resource continue to be marginalized in the CaRMS (Canadian Residency Matching Service) residency match? Despite all applicants, including IMGs, being Canadian citizens or permanent residents, in 2020 about 2,000 IMGs5 were streamed to only about 325 IMG positions6 resulting in about a 16% match rate, while there were more residency positions for 3,000 Canadian medical graduates than there were applicants.7 In the 2020 Match, about 1,400 qualified IMGs who have demonstrated competence through objective examinations went unmatched, their skills and talents lost to Canadian society.7

A BC human rights complaint alleges that this is systemic discrimination based on place of origin. The SOCASMA survey lends some support to this argument. A total of 49% of respondents identified themselves as being visible minorities, 10% reported they were not visible minorities, and 40% did not respond. However, other indications suggest that many of the 40% who did not respond may well be invisible minorities so that up to 90% of IMG respondents may be visible or invisible minorities.

When we are struggling with a pandemic that has killed over 26,000 Canadians to date,8 when there is a humanitarian crisis in our long-term care homes,4 when five million Canadians are without a primary care provider when existing health care providers are rapidly becoming exhausted and ill themselves, it is shameful that we are ignoring and marginalizing the valuable resource that IMGs represent.

As the Canadian Medical Association’s recent Policy on Equity and Diversity in Medicine9 states, it is time to open “the conversation to include the voices and knowledge of those who have historically been underrepresented and/or marginalized” and to ensure “that everyone has equal and inherent worth, has the right to be valued and respected, and to be treated with dignity.” “Equity in the medical profession is achieved when every person has the opportunity to realize their full potential to create and sustain a career without being unfairly impeded by discrimination or any other characteristic-related bias or barrier.”

Excellent words! It is past time we in Canada were true to the values of equity we espouse.


  1. Villan M. ‘We want to join this fight’: immigrant physicians make plea to serve on front lines of Covid-19.  CTV News, April 30, 2020 Available: [Accessed June 17, 2021].
  2. Atlin J. Covid-19 and Canada’s underutilized internationally educated health professionals. World Education News and Reviews, October 29, 2020. Available: [Accessed June 17, 2021].
  3. Desai D. Where are Ontario’s internationally trained doctors in its Covid-19 response? National Post, February 8, 2021. Available: [Accessed June 17, 2021].
  4. Casey L. ‘We still have an acute staffing shortage,’ Ontario’s long-term care commission hears. Global News, October 16, 2020. Available: [Accessed June 17, 2021].
  5. 2020R-1 Main Residency Match – first iteration Table6: Applicant pool by school of graduation. CaRMS. Available: [Accessed June 17, 2021].
  6. 2020R-1MainResidencyMatch-first iteration Table14: Dedicated quota offered to IMG applicants by discipline. CaRMS  Available:  2020_r1_tbl14e.pdf ( [Accessed June 17, 2021].
  7. 2020R-1 Main Residency Match Table1: Summary of match results.  CaRMS. Available: 2020_r1_tbl1e.pdf ( [Accessed June 17, 2021].
  8. Government of Canada. Covid-19 daily epidemiology update Government of Canada. Available: COVID-19 daily epidemiology update – [Accessed June 17, 2021].
  9. Equity and diversity in medicine. Canadian Medical Association. December 2019. Available: [Accessed June 17, 2021].

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