Tyee Fellows is an unmatched Canadian Medical Graduate from the University of Toronto.

Picture of Tyee Fellows

Over the weekend the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) and The Society of Rural Physicians of Canada (SRPC) published a press release highlighting the current and future issues our rural emergency departments have and will face with COVID-19 in the coming months. To ensure equitable care for our rural communities, they listed nine vital recommendations Canada can and should take. If rural Emergency Physicians calling for immediate action on a weekend is not a red flag, I don’t know what is.

As we watch COVID-19 go viral on- and off-line, I, as an unmatched medical graduate, find myself both frightened and frustrated to watch our medical community call for help while they scramble to prepare for the worst. I’m frightened because I know and appreciate our potential morbid reality after this is all said and done, but I’m frustrated because I am unable answer their plea for support and must practice my civic duty of self-monitoring and self-isolation.

I’d like to propose that Canadian governments consider a decision recently made by the Italian government. Earlier this month, Italy rushed 10,000 final-year medical students into service to meet the demands of their increasingly strained healthcare system. The new graduates are to replace more experienced physicians practicing in community clinics and nursing homes, who will then be relocated to where they are needed more: hospitals. The impact of resource allocation by mobilizing partially trained physicians is unprecedented and therefore unknown.

Italy’s unconventional decision to relocate human resources to fulfill a vital gap in their healthcare system may be a strategic option for Canada to use if we find ourselves in similar circumstances. In the short-term, we could modify this intervention by mobilizing certain cohorts of qualified healthcare professionals that are currently not being utilized. I am advocating for special measures to use me and other unmatched Canadian Medical Graduates (CMGs), who have successfully passed necessary licensing examinations required to be a medical resident, during this pandemic. We, alongside recently retired physicians, would willingly volunteer and could be granted temporary medical licenses to practice medicine in a specific healthcare setting to alleviate part of the health system burden of COVID-19 in Canada. Unmatched CMGs could be paired with either a retired or active physician to help off-set time-consuming routine and administrative tasks that are currently overwhelming active physicians.

Thankfully, Canada’s healthcare system is not yet so strained by the impact of COVID-19 as Italy’s has been. That said, it is still unclear how long this pandemic will last. Despite the increasing unity among nations and engagement of our brightest minds, confirmed cases are still rising exponentially in most countries and there is still no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 beyond early clinical-trials. We must therefore think in the long-term and prepare for crisis situations seen in countries like Italy.

As a proud Inuit/Scottish Canadian and one of the 103 unmatched CMGs from last year, I possess the clinical knowledge, procedural skills, and sincere desire to provide compassionate care to those in need right now. Being an unmatched CMG, however, means I do not have a licence to practice in a career I have spent many years training for. Moreover, as an Indigenous person, I am deeply unsettled to also know who bears most of the burden of global crises like COVID-19, minority communities. Based on most prior epidemics and pandemics, we can predict with almost certainty the communities most negatively impacted will be low- and middle-income classes across all countries.

In a time of great threat and uncertainty, our response as Canadian healthcare professionals to provide selfless, compassionate, informed, patient-centered care during this pandemic is inspiring to me as an incoming physician. Whether it be through following national guidelines like “social distancing” or being recruited to partake in initiatives as suggested above, it is a privilege and honour to do my part in supporting our colleagues and patients during this time of global need.