Lack of residency positions has forced many foreign-trained physicians to take up “survival jobs” – from delivering pizzas to driving a cab – instead of practicing medicine, finds a study.

Residency is a mandatory stage of graduate medical training in which someone who has received a medical degree works in a teaching hospital for two to five years learning from senior doctors.

“Only about 55 percent of international medical graduates, or IMGs, living in Canada are currently working as physicians,” said Aisha Lofters, a family physician and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Canada, who surveyed international medical graduates for her study.

In 2011, 1,800 applicants competed for 191 residency spots designated for foreign trained physicians in Ontario, Canada’s largest province.

The success rate that year was about 20 percent for Canadians who had gone abroad for their medical training compared to six percent for immigrant IMGs.

The numbers are similar in the United States where almost half of international medical graduates are unsuccessful in their first attempt at securing a residency position.

In 2013, 47.6 percent of non-US citizen applicants secured a residency position compared to 53.1 percent of US citizens trained in international schools.

“Those statistics for IMGs in Canada and the United States are not specific to immigrants from low and middle-income countries, so it is possible their numbers might be even lower,” Lofters noted.

The researchers studied survey results of 462 people.

“Many spoke of the shame they felt in taking what they viewed as survival jobs like delivering pizzas or driving a cab instead of practicing medicine,” Lofters added.

The study appeared in the Journal of Risk Management and Healthcare Policy.

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