Being from Canada isn’t a requirement to practice medicine there, which is great news for aspiring physicians who wish to practice in the country. Whether they want to work in a particular region, are pursuing a highly specialized field, or simply desire a new challenge, many students from other countries have their sights set on becoming a doctor in Canada.
Knowing international students have few options for attending a Canadian medical school, how can these aspiring physicians begin? Below, you’ll find an overview of all the required steps.
Exploring the typical path for foreign doctors in Canada
While there are several paths that lead to becoming a doctor in Canada, many students find that pursuing a postgraduate residency in the US and then later moving to Canada is the best option.
1. Apply to medical school
Due to differences in education systems around the world, there are numerous types of medical degrees. While some students in Canada obtain a Medicinæ Doctorem et Chirurgiæ Magistrum (MDCM), a Doctor of Medicine (MD) is the more common degree for Canadian physicians, and the one that may give aspiring physicians the most opportunity.
When determining what medical schools to apply to, do some research to ensure you select institutions with high academic standards, strong licensing exam scores, a history of successful alumni, and a strong record of graduate placements in Canada. Application requirements vary by school, but typical requirements include a strong academic record and exam scores as well as English language proficiency.
It’s important to know that MD programs outside Canada, including those in the Caribbean, Australia, and Ireland, have provided a pathway for aspiring physicians to practice in Canada. For example, St. George’s University (SGU) School of Medicine, which has locations in the UK and Grenada, has helped a growing number of graduates on the path to success. According to data from the last few years, 94 percent of SGU’s international students obtained a passing score on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 on the first try.¹
2. Obtain your medical degree
Once they’ve entered a four-year MD format, most medical students spend the next two years attending lectures and completing labs in the basic sciences. You’ll need to begin taking your licensing exams at this time. It’s a good idea to sit for the USMLE Step 1 near the end of your second year to ensure you’re able to apply for residency positions in both countries
The final two years of an MD program are typically devoted to clinical rotations. These immersive experiences take place in actual medical centers and help students develop their skills working directly with patients. You will also need to pass the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination (MCCQE) Part I within a year of graduating to apply for residency positions in Canada. As your final year of medical school approaches, you’ll need to start preparing to apply for postgraduate training positions.
3. Address requirements for obtaining a residency
There are a few items medical students should address near the end of their medical education. Those who will be completing their postgraduate training in Canada will need to make arrangements to move there (being a permanent resident or citizen is a legal requirement). Relocating is also necessary to meet other Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) eligibility requirements, such as completing the National Assessment Collaboration (NAC) exam.
Students who intend to complete a US residency program will first need to obtain certification from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). To become ECFMG certified, a student will need to complete an application and have passed the USMLE Step 2.
4. Apply for residency positions
To secure a medical residency in Canada, students will apply to programs through CaRMS. Before this step, however, it’s important to look into provincial criteria to address the specific requirements for all the programs you’re considering. Again, it is also a legal requirement to be a citizen or permanent resident of Canada.
Students who complete their postgraduate training in the US will apply for positions through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). Before submitting applications, students should verify that the programs they’re selecting are willing to provide H-1B visa sponsorship, which does not require recipients to return to their home countries for a few years after residency.
5. Complete your postgraduate training program
Residency will last anywhere from three to seven years, depending on the specialty and program. Regardless of whether you complete postgraduate training in the US or Canada, expect a rigorous program that will help prepare you for the complexities of medical practice. Many physicians say residency is a necessary challenge that rapidly helps you develop skills you’ll rely on for the rest of your career.
At this point, you can either begin taking the next steps toward practicing or pursue a fellowship should you wish to further specialize. Requirements for post-residency training programs in Canada vary widely both by specialty and province, so applicants will have to carefully review criteria for each program they’re considering to ensure they’re eligible. Note that if you will be completing additional training in the US, you will need to pass the USMLE Step 3.
6. Become a Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada
Becoming a Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC) is a requirement for all physicians in Canada. Graduates who are completing postgraduate training in Canada can begin the process of becoming an LMCC during their residency program. You can apply after you have completed one year of residency and passed both the MCCQE Part I and the MCCQE Part II. Upon approval, you will receive your Certificate of Registration.
Graduates who complete their postgraduate training in the US may find it simpler to pursue LMCC status upon completing their entire residency program. This allows them to move to Canada, establish permanent residence, and take the MCCQE Part II.
7. Obtain the appropriate certification
Once you’ve completed your initial licensing exams, you will need to have a recognized authority evaluate and approve your postgraduate training. After you have completed this step, you’re eligible for examination to become certified by the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC), the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), or the Collège des médecins du Québec (CMQ). Note that acquiring board certification for family medicine in the US makes it possible for graduates to obtain CFPC certification without further examination. It’s also critical to address any other province-specific requirements, after which you can obtain a license to practice in your desired area.
8. Begin practicing
When you’ve completed all requirements to practice within Canada and the specific province in which you live, you’re free to start your career as a physician. There are multiple types of medical practices, so think about which model best aligns with your career goals. You should also know that it’s completely possible to adjust later if you find that something else better suits your lifestyle. For instance, some physicians find that sharing responsibilities with a few other practitioners is preferable to hospital employment.
Start comparing medical schools
Students who are committed to becoming a doctor in Canada should begin carefully researching medical schools and identifying financing options that work best for them. There are numerous programs to choose from, including some that extend scholarships to students from all different countries. To learn more about how to finance an MD program, read our article “How to Pay for Medical School: Doctors Share How They Did It.”
1Average of 2019, 2020, 2021 scores. First-time pass rate is defined as the number of students passing USMLE Step 1 on their first attempt divided by the total number of students taking USMLE Step 1 for the first time. In order to be certified to take USMLE Step 1, students are required to pass all basic sciences courses.