|CSAT program meets needs of physicians and rural communities
By Pamela Gill
Now in its seventh year of operation, the Clinical Skills Assessment and Training program is proving itself to be a valuable asset to rural communities in need of general practitioners.
Dr. Carl Sparrow and Jeanette Christopher.
Photo by Pamela Gill
Developed in 1997, the program provides skills assessment and training to foreign medical graduates who require further upgrading before they can be licensed to practice in Newfoundland and Labrador. The program is also open to graduates of Canadian medical schools who have been out of practice and require assessment and skill enhancement. It is run by Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine Professional Development Office.
“The program was born out of the need to fill a number of family physician positions which were vacant in the province,” said Jeanette Christopher, co-ordinator of the program, in her Corner Brook office. The CSAT office is located at the Western Memorial Regional Hospital. “There are a lot of doctors from other countries already living in Canada who may be eligible for licensure given the opportunities a program like CSAT offers.”
In order to practice in this province, international medical graduates must apply to the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Board, and based on their qualifications may or may not be referred to the CSAT program.
“We do an assessment a two-day comprehensive assessment of knowledge and clinical skills,” said Mrs. Christopher, adding that the candidates must also write two exams and take one oral exam, as well as participate in a simulated patient visit.
The program receives about 100 applications per year; of those, roughly 20 are eligible for assessment. Of those 20, about 70 per cent go on to the second phase the training component. To date, a total of 97 assessments have been completed with 68 physicians or 70 per cent accepted for training.
“The training component is designed to meet the gaps in their skill set, whether it’s cultural, medical skills or other knowledge,” said Dr. Carl Sparrow, medical director of the program. “For example, some countries don’t have training in psychiatry or pediatrics. CSAT fills the gap in training received in the country of origin. We want to produce physicians who are confident in their clinical skills and comfortable working in a rural setting.”
About 98 to 99 per cent of successful applicants complete the program and go on to become professionally licensed to practice in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The success of the program one of its kind in the country is catching on. CSAT has begun to complete assessments for the Maritime provinces as well. Although Manitoba has a similar program, and Ontario is just starting such a program, CSAT remains unique.
“We are one of a very few programs like this in Canada and probably the only one with a direct route to practice,” said Dr. Sparrow.
The success of the program can also be measured by the dedication of its graduates to Newfoundland and Labrador. The retention rate about 66 per cent is remarkable, said Mrs. Christopher.
“These physicians are committed to this province,” said Mrs. Christopher. “There are 46 graduates of the program and about 30 are practicing in Newfoundland and Labrador in rural general practice settings. As well, over 20 assessments were done this year alone, many of these will be offered positions in Newfoundland and Labrador when the training is completed. These people are spread out all over the province in rural areas. Without this program it would be much harder to recruit physicians for these locations.”
“The program encourages participation from physicians who choose to come to this country to live,” said Dr. Sparrow. “This is a very proactive approach, rather than recruiting them from their country of origin.
“Some of these physicians are working in other jobs. It’s a waste of their professional skills and knowledge. They’re driving taxis, delivering pizzas and working in laundries,” he said. There continues to be physician shortages in the Newfoundland and Labrador. The CSAT Program is a very good match as it offers them an opportunity to continue to practice medicine that 10 years ago they wouldn’t have had.”