05/16/2012 02:11 EDT | Updated 07/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Saskatchewan changes foreign-trained doctor recruitment to deal with shortage

REGINA - Saskatchewan is giving health care a booster shot with a plan to recruit more foreign-trained physicians.

The province announced Wednesday that it's removing a barrier that limited international medical graduates from practising in Saskatchewan.

The change means family physician medical graduates from all countries will be assessed as long as they meet licensing criteria.

Only international medical graduates from six countries — United States, Great Britain, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia — were previously eligible.

"I've heard many people say, you know if a physician trained in Germany, that speaks great English, why can't he practice here in Saskatchewan," Health Minister Don McMorris said.

"He couldn't before because he wasn't from those original six countries. So it opens up the pool that we can attract from."

The policy change could help rural Saskatchewan, which has been facing a doctor shortage that the Opposition NDP says has led to emergency room closures in communities across the province.

The new process means international medical graduates who meet qualifications, including a national entrance exam, arrive in Saskatchewan for orientation and are then assessed. If they pass, they'll go into communities fully licensed.

The assessment has operated as a pilot project since early last year.

The province said the new process also means 90 doctors can be assessed a year, up from about 55.

McMorris said doctors can practise wherever they want, but he adds they are normally recruited to communities.

"This will not guarantee a physician in every community. That's not the point of the program. But the point of this program is to make sure that we have a bigger pool to accept from," he said.

"We have a higher reliance on internationally medically trained grads than any other province in Canada."