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Canadian-born doctor gets licence to practise here after 17-month fight

A Canadian-born doctor who has been in a protracted battle with medical licensing authorities has finally received the documents she needs to practise medicine in Canada.

Dr. Stephanie DeMarchi, a family doctor who has trained and worked in Australia for the past 10 years, first applied to the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) — the body that evaluates medical graduates and physicians — to have her foreign credentials recognized in April 2022.

What followed was a 17-month wait while the MCC and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), the provincial regulatory body responsible for licensing doctors, reviewed documents such as her university degree, her post-graduate (residency) certificate and resume.

She sat for an hours-long test and haggled with officials who were scrutinizing her blemish-free record from a Commonwealth country with a top-notch health-care system.

At least one document was rejected by the CPSO because of how the date on a reference letter was formatted.

DeMarchi moved her family to her hometown of Hamilton, Ont. in the fall of 2022, thinking the process would be over in a matter of weeks.

In May 2023, she had to move back to Australia to keep her licence from that country active. She left her two children and husband behind in southern Ontario.

CBC News profiled DeMarchi’s quest for a Canadian licence at the end of June.

Her licence from the CPSO came through two days after the story was published.

Reached by phone Thursday, DeMarchi said she was relieved to have her licence in hand.

“Can you believe the turnaround time was just 48 hours after the story was published?” DeMarchi told CBC News.

“The CPSO called me the next day and the agent said, ‘I’m going to personally see this through.'”

“My journey is over, but what about every other doctor who’s trying to be certified and reviewed by the MCC?” she added, referring to the body responsible for source verification of medical credentials in most provinces.

“Especially right now, at this particular time, when there’s a massive increase in people who don’t have GPs. There are Canadian doctors willing to work and they can’t.”

Dr. Stephanie DeMarchi is pictured on a beach with her family.
DeMarchi, right, said she had to move back to Australia by herself to keep her Australian licence current. Her family stayed behind in southern Ontario. (Submitted by Stephanie DeMarchi)

She said the Canadian licensing system is riddled with “gross inefficiencies,” with overlapping regulatory bodies sometimes demanding the same documents.

“I waited 17 months. Who wants to take a job where the onboarding process is 14 to 17 months? Most people would be like, ‘No, no, I’m good,'” she said.

The story prompted the MCC to publicly defend its processing record.

It said it has committed to hiring more staff to review applications in a more timely manner, given Canada’s acute shortage of doctors.

Federal data suggests Canada will be short roughly 44,000 doctors — including 30,000 family doctors and general practitioners — by 2028.

“We acknowledge that the current processing times for reviewing documents are longer than what we aim for. We are committed to addressing these longer timelines and are actively recruiting additional staff to improve the processing times and offer our candidates the best possible service,” the MCC said in a media statement.

WATCH: Canada is losing out on hundreds of qualified doctors each year. Here’s why

canadian born doctor gets licence to practise here after 17 month fight 1

Canada is losing out on hundreds of qualified doctors each year. Here’s why

5 months ago

Duration 2:07

Canada is losing out on hundreds of qualified Canadian doctors trained abroad who can’t practice because they find it difficult to get residencies here due to a combination of red tape and bias.

The development means DeMarchi can take over for her mother, a family doctor in Hamilton who is due to retire soon. It also means hundreds of patients in the fast-growing city won’t be left without a doctor.

DeMarchi didn’t wait long to start practising after receiving the necessary paperwork. She’s already working alongside her mother in a family health group practice and she has two other locum positions. (A locum is a doctor who temporarily fills in for another physician.)

DeMarchi said the whole experience still left a “sour taste” in her mouth.

“It’s exhausting. It was an uphill battle. A very long uphill battle. It’s certainly taken a toll on me, not to mention all the time, money and energy. That energy could have been devoted to building my career in Canada and welcoming new patients,” she said.

She said working with those patients reminds her that the arduous process ultimately was worth it.

“That part is rejuvenating,” she said.

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