Welcoming the World’s Best to Canada’s Health System

Many of Canada's healthcare professionals were trained elsewhere, but are they getting what they need to succeed and help their patients?

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“Individuals who choose to come to countries like Canada, who are physicians or dentists or pharmacists or nurses, they can go other places. But our healthcare system desperately needs them.”

Canada and many countries around the world rely on immigration to bring qualified professionals to our healthcare systems, says Zubin Austin, professor of pharmacy at the University of Toronto. There is no substitute for the human factor in medicine, and the quality of our healthcare system is directly tied to giving healthcare workers the resources they need.

“Close to 30 percent of all of our healthcare professionals come from outside of the country,” says Austin. “These are incredibly talented, smart, committed individuals, but they may come from healthcare systems that are quite different from Canada’s.”

Helping internationally trained workers integrate is incredibly important. They need support and training to get up to speed and adapt to their new homes and workplaces.

“The economic implications of the work I do are significant,” adds Austin. “If we don’t invest in helping people better integrate into the system, error rates will increase, quality of care will decrease, and perhaps most importantly, the quality of life of Canadians who have come to rely on a good healthcare system will diminish.”

Austin increasingly finds his work is becoming political. Whenever he hears politicians describe immigration in a negative light, it reinforces his role as an advocate.

“When you work with individuals who have sacrificed much to come to this country, to provide care to people from a different country than one they grew up in, you can’t help but be touched by their sacrifice, their commitment, and their dedication,” says Austin.

Canada is better and stronger because of the people who choose to make it their home. Making sure our newcomers have the resources they need for success in the workplace makes our communities better for everyone.

“Canada has always been a country that has been enriched by immigration,” adds Austin, “and our healthcare system has always been enriched by the contributions of internationally trained healthcare professionals.”

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Zubin Austin BScPhm MBA MISc PhD FCAHS is professor and Koffler Chair in Management at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and the Institute for Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation – Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

His research focuses on the personal and professional development of the health workforce, with a particular emphasis on internationally educated health professionals who have received their training outside Canada. He has published over 175 peer reviewed manuscripts, authored 4 reference textbooks, delivered over 150 keynote presentations at international conferences, and has received awards for his work from national and international organizations.

In 2017, in recognition of the societal impact of his work, Austin was installed as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, one of the highest honours for health researchers in Canada. He is also the only University of Toronto professor ever to have received both the President’s Teaching Award for sustained excellence in education, and the President’s Research Impact award for the national and international significance of his research. He has also been named undergraduate Professor of the Year by students on 20 occasions.

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