When Dr. Abir Hussein arrived in Canada in 2009, she was surprised to learn how difficult the process is for international physicians to practice medicine here. The native of Egypt was a General Practitioner in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and her husband, Islam Eissa, was an Internist. “When we applied for Canadian immigration, we knew Canada needed doctors and that’s why we were accepted. We thought that when we pass our qualification exams we will enter a Residency program or start working as physicians.”
They had left the Middle East mainly because of their careers. “We were looking for the best opportunities in medicine, and Canada offered an excellent, balanced health-care system.” They were also impressed with the country’s education, social standards and free speech. They had passed the “Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Exam” in Saudi Arabia and their next exam upon arriving. It took two years to complete everything, including increasing her English competency level. “I tried to do as much as possible to get higher qualifications,” says Abir. She found the process educational. “It’s not just the medicine, but you’re learning a different health-care system. Ethical dilemmas, for example, are not a part of our original training.” It was challenging financially as they were raising a family that has now grown to four girls – Reem, 13, Zayna, 9, Salma, 5, and Lina, 2. Abir and Islam worked in blood collection while studying, and he also took other jobs.
Upon completing the Clinician Assessment for Practice Program (CAPP), Abir received a four-year position in a rural community and was awarded a mentorship. In November 2011 she started her current job at the Ocean View Family Practice in Yarmouth. Islam is completing his residency in Saint John, New Brunswick, and will soon join his family.
The comments from Yarmouth people were so touching and welcoming, and from people I don’t know. They were so excited and happy for us, feeling honored that we chose Yarmouth. We felt the love.
“ISANS assistance was very central in my achievement,” says Abir. She received employment counselling upon arrival and the organization also assisted with clinical exam preparation through a program affiliated with Dalhousie University. “That was one of the most important things that helped me pass the clinical exams.” Abir also participated in English for Healthcare Professionals. “It is sometimes challenging to interview a patient. The instructor provided me with all the materials I needed and taught me how to phrase my sentences so I could take an efficient medical history.” Abir remembers a volunteer nurse at ISANS who met with the internationally trained physicians weekly to help them with clinical exam practice. She also used the Career Access Fund to help support the cost of her exams.
Abir describes Yarmouth as a “friendly environment with supportive people,” noting in particular, Dr Shelagh Leahey, her mentor. “We felt very welcomed. There are lots of extra-curricular activities for the kids.” The only drawback is the small size of the Muslim community. Abir, Islam, Reem and Zayna received Canadian citizenship in April. Pictures posted online by CBC elicited favorable responses. “The comments from Yarmouth people were so touching and welcoming, and from people I don’t know. They were so excited and happy for us, feeling honored that we chose Yarmouth. We felt the love.”
They return to Egypt to visit family and friends. “But this is home,” says Abir. “It’s a good place for the children, and we have satisfying jobs, thanks to help from ISANS.”