Five months ago, Dr. Xiu-Mei Zhang was barred from practicing western medicine in the Yukon.
Last week, she was licensed again.
“It’s a question of paperwork,” said Dr. Rao Tadepalli of the new Medical Profession Act, which now allows Zhang to perform medicine.
Tadepalli is president of the Yukon Medical Association. And like Zhang, he is not a member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.
It was that requirement under the old law that kept Zhang from getting fully licensed in the territory.
The requirement was included in the special licence program for foreign doctors, which the territory enacted in 2001 to help lure doctors north.
Foreign doctors were welcomed to practise for five years under this special licence, after which they had to pass the national college’s two-day exam.
Tadepalli came to the Yukon before this stipulation was required. Zhang, who has been offering eastern medicine in the territory for 20 years, didn’t begin her western practice until 2005.
And after successfully completing a Health Canada assessment for international physicians at the University of Alberta in 2006, Zhang was told by the Yukon Medical Council she had one last chance to take the college’s national test in 2010.
She didn’t have enough time to prepare and failed, she said.
But after the council granted an extension to try again, she was ready.
Then, three days before the exam, her mother died.
Zhang knew before she even finished writing it that she had failed the test again, she said.
“My heart was torn apart,” she said in July. That’s when patients lobbied the government to allow her to practise medicine. The obligation for reputable foreign doctors to take the exam is “discriminatory,” some argued.
Still, the government revoked her Yukon licence.
Zhang left her home, community, husband and two sons to find work in the Northwest Territories.
She was well received and given a full licence.
The Yukon’s new legislation was not provoked by the actions of Zhang’s supporters, said Health officials.
It has been in the works for years, they said.
The actual legislation was passed in 2008, but could not be enacted until the regulations were passed. That happened last week.
Those regulations include applying the same rules all across Canada, so if a doctor is licensed in one jurisdiction, they can practise in the Yukon.
That regulation allows Zhang to practise medicine on this side of the border as well.
“More and more regulatory bodies are recognizing that the national exams are not necessarily the best reflection of a physician’s competence,” said Fiona Charbonneau, the registrar of medical practitioners for the Yukon. “Other jurisdictions allow full licence based on such things as prior work experience and assessment. So now, with the labour-mobility-compliant regulations that we have in place, physicians who have full and unrestricted licences in other Canadian jurisdictions can also be licensed in the Yukon.”
And after finding a replacement for her practice in the Northwest Territories, Zhang has elected to return to the Yukon.
“My heart is filled with the comfort and warmness of my family’s, friends’ and patients’ support,” she wrote in an email Thursday. “I have to remind myself that I have choices in life and after reviewing all the options, I decided to take this call (back to the Yukon).”
The decision came after a family trip to China over the past month where Zhang was inundated with questions from other former classmates of the Norman Bethune University in northeast China, who heard of her patients’ petition through Chinese and Canadian media.
She was also able to visit her family in China and see the resting place of her mother.
“Although I had many, many losses, in one aspect, this year, the love I received and the life experiences I gained I treasured very much,” she wrote.
“From a doctor’s perspective, we are happy to have her back,” said Tadepalli. “I think she is an excellent doctor and a great colleague to have, and the medical profession of Yukon doctors are entirely very happy to see her practise back here in the territory.
“Yukon is not a place where we can formerly assess physicians towards a full licence. We need mechanisms to assess these family doctors.
“This is an across-Canada act … and that’s the door we absolutely want open. It gives an across-Canada standard bar of practice. So that’s what this is about, not behaving like 13 different countries when it comes to medical licences.”
Currently, Nunavut is the only Canadian jurisdiction left to include a similar regulation into medical legislation.
Other changes to the Yukon’s act include new short-term registration categories for physicians wanting to help out in the territory for specific events or emergencies. As well, the Yukon Medical Council can now share disciplinary information about a physician to ensure public safety.
The special licence program, which led to Zhang’s loss of licence, is now called limited licence program. It is still available under the territory’s legislation and still requires the national college’s exam.
But the program is not accepting applications at this time.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at