Canadian lesbian couple says doctor refused to treat them
By The Canadian Press
(Winnipeg, Manitoba) A Manitoba lesbian couple rejected by a family doctor from Egypt for religious reasons says Canada must better educate foreign-trained physicians.
Andrea Markowski said she and her partner Ginette were stunned when the Winnipeg doctor told them during a “meet-and-greet” appointment she was uncomfortable accepting them as patients and had never treated “people like you” before.
The doctor said she only treated “husbands and wives,” said Markowski, who is legally married to her partner of 18 years.
“It was like a kick in the stomach,” said Markowski, who just moved to the city from the Northwest Territories. “It was definitely a traumatic and unexpected experience … She is a doctor who is paid with public funds.
“I have a really hard time understanding how her religion affects her ability to care for me as a human being.”
The couple has lodged a complaint with the province’s human rights commission and the Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures no one can be denied health care on the grounds of sexual orientation, Markowski pointed out. The bodies regulating doctors in Canada must therefore take more responsibility to ensure foreign-trained physicians are ready to practise here, she added.
“We’ve stumbled upon a pretty serious problem and we want to make sure that it gets fixed. In some ways you feel a bit like a prisoner. There are so few doctors, it’s hard to see one, but they still are accountable to provide good service,” Markowski said.
“The College of Physicians and Surgeons in Manitoba and other places in Canada has to broaden the way that it assesses the skills - particularly of foreign doctors who may be coming from places where beliefs and norms are quite different - to make sure that they really are able to practise the physical, mental and emotional care of patients.”
Dr. Kamelia Elias did not return phone calls seeking comment. But she told the Winnipeg Free Press that she has no experience treating gays and lesbians who have “sexual problems” and “a lot of diseases and infections.”
“I said it’s better to find someone who has experience and will take this type of patients,” she told the newspaper.
Gay-rights organizations are calling for better programs specifically aimed at nipping prejudice in the bud.
The registrar of Manitoba’s physicians college said foreign-trained doctors do undergo an orientation before they can practise in the province. Bill Pope said doctors coming from other countries suffer from culture shock when they come to Canada. Some of them have never done a pelvic exam on a woman or put on a plastic cast, he said.
“How much of a change do you think it would be if you or I were put down somewhere in a Muslim Arabic country or Uzbekistan? It would be a shock,” Pope said. “We would hope that we would be forewarned about areas where we could potentially create problems without our knowing it.”
The province’s college has recently extended its orientation for foreign-trained doctors from one week to a month, he said. There is also some discussion of holding a session with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission so doctors get a briefing of the expectations of them under the charter.
The head of Canada’s gay-rights organization said transgendered people are sometimes denied health care. But Helen Kennedy with EGALE said this is the first instance she’s heard of involving a lesbian.
As the number of foreign-trained doctors in Canada increases, it’s incumbent upon colleges and the country’s Immigration Department to ensure they accept gay, lesbian and transgendered patients, she said.
“This is really sad. It really shows a bigger problem with people who are medically trained coming to Canada from other cultures. There is nothing in place to assist them to make the adjustment and to get the training that they need when they come here.”
Still others say all doctors would benefit from a better understanding of gay and lesbian health issues.
“All physicians need to get more training on this,” said Gens Hellquist, executive director of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition. “What little they get tends to be focused on HIV and AIDS, which is only one of the range of health issues.”