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Physician Licencing – the Response During COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has put incredible strain on health care systems, in Ontario and across the world. In response, many governments and health professional regulators have adopted creative approaches to licensing doctors and other health care providers, so that as many competent front line workers as possible are available to fight the pandemic.

In Ontario, for example, the College of Physicians and Surgeons (“CPSO”) has adopted a number of policies to add to the ranks of doctors available. Retired physicians are able to apply for expedited licenses, International Medical Graduates who have not completed residency may qualify for Supervised Short-Duration Certificates, and the CPSO has developed a special provisional licence so final-year residents whose examinations have been postponed can practice medicine without delay. These measures will mean more doctors will be available to lend a hand during this time of emergency.

Normally, however, the process for a doctor to get a CPSO license is more stringent. That is likely why the Supervised Short-Duration Certificates and special certificates for final-year residents mentioned above are both short-term, expiring at 30 days and 6 months, respectively. The licensing streams usually followed are strict – and for good reason. It is the role of the CPSO, a group comprised of doctors to whom the government has given its authority, to regulate the practice of medicine in Ontario. As a result, the CPSO is responsible for making sure the doctors who practice here are well-trained and have adequate experience.

In order to ensure Ontario’s doctors are properly-qualified, the CPSO requires that applicants demonstrate their education, training, and experience, which includes having passed examinations administered by other organizations. In order to obtain an Independent Practice Certificate of Registration, for example, the applicant doctor must have passed Parts 1 and 2 of the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination and pass another examination by either the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada or the College of Family Physicians of Canada, in addition to having a medical degree from an accredited or acceptable school and having completed one year of postgraduate training or active medical practice in Canada. Other pathways to licensing, like for international medical school graduates, may be even more exhaustive.

A doctor needs a license from the CPSO to practice medicine in Ontario, but a CPSO license does not mean that doctor can work at whatever hospital they choose, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals determine which doctors can practice medicine at them through a different process, called getting “privileges”, which each hospital controls. The first step, though, during a pandemic or otherwise, is always getting a license.

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