What ails the medical profession

After spending 20 years in the Yukon healing people, Xiu-Mei Zhang is still considered a foreign doctor. So, after her special licence expired in April, she decided to move on.

After spending 20 years in the Yukon healing people, Xiu-Mei Zhang is still considered a foreign doctor.

So, after her special licence expired in April, she decided to move on. She started working in the Northwest Territories.

The territory has lost a respected doctor, and her patients are furious.

They have delivered a letter and petition – with more than 160 signatures – to the territory’s top politicians demanding answers about new regulations that forced Zhang to leave.

“We are not interested in political stuff,” said Richard Li. “But, sadly, in order to bring this to the attention of people who can make the change, we have to go through the political channels. We don’t want to be used as a political weapon … but it is the government who set up the policy.

“It’s a discriminating regulation.”

Zhang practised eastern medicine when she first arrived in the territory, but added western medicine to her practice in 2005, after the territory brought in the special licensing program.

It was designed to lure international medical graduates to alleviate the territory’s doctor shortage. It allows foreign doctors to work five years in the territory, but they must successfully complete a two-day College of Family Physicians of Canada exam to keep working after that.

No one ever told Zhang she had to complete this exam, she said.

In 2006, the territory suggested Zhang attend the Western Alliance for Assessment of International Physicians at the University of Alberta. It was a Health Canada program to help the doctor shortage in Western Canada by making sure foreign doctors are “practice ready.”

Zhang passed with flying colours.

“I was the only one in Yukon, and YTG was very happy for me at that time,” she said. “And I was told, ‘You are practice standard, same like Canadian graduates.’ So I thought I am finished all this foreign business because I have been assessed by a Canadian medical university.

“I thought I was a part of mainstream community.”

But after another four years of practising in the territory, the Yukon Medical Council sent her a letter, telling her it was her last chance to take the national college’s test.

There was not enough time to study or prepare and Zhang failed the two-day exam, she said.

The council extended her licence so she could take the test again.

This time she was prepared.

But three days before the exam, her mother passed away.

“My heart was torn apart,” she said. “My mom was the only parent we had. All my family decided I should stay to finish the exam. They think that’s what my mom wanted for me, although she couldn’t speak. But right after the exam, I knew I didn’t pass.

“I tried so much and I just feel my life is being controlled by this exam – which is not required in other places. Coming back to Whitehorse is almost no fun.”

The point isn’t whether she passed or failed, but why she has to take the test at all, said Li.

“Why is it required for foreign doctors who have been practising in this area for, like, five years with a proven track record?” he said. “(Foreign doctors who are) being recognized with such a high quality of service in the community, being respected, not only from their medical knowledge but also as a person.”

“The doctors who graduate from Canadian universities don’t have to take examinations again and again and again,” said Daishu Zuo, another of Zhang’s former patients. She, too, had to undergo rigorous testing when coming to Canada to continue her work as a pharmacist.

“I am not sure Canadian doctors and doctors from other countries get the same treatment,” she said.

The national college’s exam is not mandatory for all doctors in Canada. It is stipulated by region, which is why Zhang has been welcomed in the Northwest Territories.

Being spurned by the Yukon medical establishment is a hard blow for Zhang, who graduated from the Norman Bethune University in northeast China, which is named after the famous Canadian physician who harmonized eastern and western medicine in China.

Her decision to move here was influenced by Bethune. She wanted to bring her culture to Canada, she said.

“I feel I have a responsibility to share my knowledge,” she said, mentioning the healing, mind-body connection that eastern medicine is based on.

“These are special skills the Yukon government is sending away,” said Zuo.

“Xiu-Mei has been humiliated,” said Li, sitting across from her in her family’s living room.

Zhang and her husband designed and built their home in 2007. With its circular archways and dark, ebony wood, it is unlike other Whitehorse homes.

“We were planning on living here forever,” said Zhang. “For our children, our grandchildren. Now everything has changed.”

The words make Kim Dinh, who is sitting beside Zhang, wince.

“If you’re a Canadian doctor and you come to Vietnam, you work normally,” said Dinh. “Why we respect you and you don’t respect us? It’s unfair.

“Any citizen of Yukon or Western Canada should be the same. Do you think the Northwest Territories are a lower class?

“We come here, we offer our life for Yukon. We work, we pay taxes, so we need good treatment when it comes to health care.

“When Xiu-Mei go, we are the one who lost. Who’s going to take care of us?”

Having a family doctor, especially one who knows Asian medicine and languages, is irreplaceable, said Dinh.

When she moved to the Yukon from Vietnam, the change in climate and humidity caused severe nosebleeds.

No one could stop the blood from flowing, except Zhang, said Dinh.

The task of explaining symptoms to a doctor can be a challenge even when language is not.

“We can’t tell doctors what is happening in our bodies,” she said. “And we can’t understand what the doctors say.”

If it weren’t for Zhang, Li’s four-year-old daughter may not be alive.

Zhang diagnosed the girl and contacted the BC children’s hospital quickly enough to keep her alive, he said.

“She spent three days in the ICU.”

“It was Kawasaki disease,” Zhang interjected.

The community Zhang is leaving behind is not just Asian.

One Caucasian Canadian man arrived before Zuo had opened her store in the Horwood’s Mall this week.

“He came back again later just to sign the petition,” she said, nodding her head repeatedly.

“It’s a ripple effect that will start to affect everyone in this community,” said Li. “We can’t find a doctor. The people who signed that petition also can’t find a doctor. Xiu-Mei is not the only example. There’s a bigger impact here.

“To me, this is a quick fix. By removing this exam requirement, you don’t need to spend any money. It’s just a policy change. It’s a quick fix for the doctor shortage. And it would bring a benefit back to the community immediately.”

The petition is expected to grow, and it’s available at Daishu’s Jewelry and Gift, said Li.

“It’s not in our culture to be loud,” said Zhang.

She has started to accept living her life split between work in the Northwest Territories and her husband and two sons in the Yukon.

She was impressed when her past patients came to her, asking if they could speak out.

“It’s really warming,” she said. “all my patients’ support.”

But Zhang is ready to move on to a system that embraces her, she said.

“I am needed there and it is rewarding work,” she said. “My heart is torn apart. It’s not the community – it has given me so much love and support. It’s my profession’s regulatory system.

“I have been here 20 years. This is my community, my home. But now, coming back from NWT, it’s a different feeling.”

“We can see she’s happier and feeling more rewarded and valued in the NWT,” said Zuo.

The NWT is not far from here and we’re upset that we can’t have the same benefit, said Li.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read