Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the medical training system must be sufficiently flexible to enable medical students to make informed career choices, accommodate resident program changes, and allow practising physicians the opportunity to re-enter training to enhance their skills and knowledge, or to enter a new sphere of practice. The system must also be able to accommodate international medical graduates (IMGs) to provide them with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. For physicians-in-training, effective career guidance and positive influences on career options (e.g., role modelling, early clinical exposure, etc.) may foster confidence with career path selection and minimize program changes during residency. A flexible and well-designed re-entry postgraduate system would be characterized by: long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
The CMA believes that, ultimately, society benefits from a flexible medical training system. These benefits may include enhanced patient care, improved access to physician services, as well as physician retention, particularly in rural and remote communities. A flexible system may also improve morale and satisfaction among students, residents and physicians, and facilitate better career choices. This policy outlines specific recommendations to help create and maintain a well-designed system for flexibility in physician training in Canada. Commitment and action by all stakeholders, including governments, medical schools, regulatory authorities and others, is required.
The CMA believes that this policy must be considered in the context of other relevant CMA policies, including but not limited to the CMA's policies on physician resource planning, physician health and well-being, physician workforce issues and others.
- Postgraduate trainee - Also known as a "resident," an individual who has received his/her MD degree and is currently enrolled in an accredited program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
- Medical student - An individual enrolled in an undergraduate program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to an MD degree.
- International medical graduate - An individual who received his/her MD degree from a training program other than from one of Canada's undergraduate schools of medicine.
- Designated positions - Postgraduate positions within the determined complement of residency positions that are identified to meet a need other than that of accommodating the annual number of new graduates of Canadian medical schools to complete the usual training for certification and licensure. Designated positions may be identified for a variety of purposes.
The need for informed career decision-making and positive influences
Choice of practice discipline as lifelong career can be one of the most difficult aspects of physician training. Exacerbating this challenge are the vast array of available specialties, timing of choices, as well as practice considerations in terms of lifestyle and physician resource needs. The rapidly changing face of medical practice as well as the limited amount of information and time available to consider options, are also contributing factors.
A number of other forces, both positive and negative, may affect students' choices of practice specialty. These can include financial considerations in light of student debt incurred by high tuition fees and insufficient financial support. 12 The biases of faculty, family and others may also impact decisions. In addition, limited training opportunities in general, as well as a lack of flexibility to switch training programs, may also restrict choice of practice specialty. While a myriad of personal factors are acknowledged to also play contributing roles in influencing program selection, these issues are too complex to discuss here. Ultimately, students need to have access to financial support so as to reduce stress and the influence of debt on specialty choice. They also need objective information and guidance and broad clinical experiences early in their medical training as this has been identified as a critical factor in making decisions about their future careers.3
The rotating internship, abolished in the early 1990s, used to permit residency selection at a later stage in medical training. The residency program match now takes place during the final year of undergraduate studies. As a consequence of this earlier timing, some students feel pressured to make their specialty choice too early in their medical education and often before their clerkship has even begun. This can include focusing research and program electives4 in one specific area, rather than sampling a broad range of disciplines, to demonstrate conviction of choice to residency program directors at the time of the match. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to the Canadian Resident Matching Service's (CaRMS) 2006 post-match survey indicated they completed more than half of their electives in their first-choice discipline.5 This, combined with the early timing of the residency match, can lead to an uninformed choice of residency program and the realization, at a later date, that a different training program would be more suitable. Eighty percent of medical leader respondents to the 2008 Core Competency Project survey indicated that timing of career choice was the biggest challenge for career decision-making.6
Those residents who wish to change to new training programs may not believe they have the opportunity to do so. Thirty-seven percent of resident respondents to the Core Competency Project survey considered switching disciplines during their residency training7 and 39% had spoken to a faculty member about switching programs.8 Others who do change programs are ultimately delayed entry into the workforce as a result of their prolonged training. This problem is exacerbated by an insufficient number of re-entry postgraduate training positions and large debt that confine trainees to a single career path.
Lack of student confidence and preparedness in choosing a postgraduate training program, or lack of success in achieving a first choice in the postgraduate match, may predict subsequent program changes. A broad range of strategies must be available to help medical students make informed career choices. These include a wider choice of electives at an earlier stage of training, positive and unbiased mentoring experiences, improved access to career information from residents, as well as career seminars and other resources.
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
1. the undergraduate medical school curriculum be re-designed to facilitate informed career choice and, in particular, to ensure that students enjoy a broad range of clinical experiences before they have to choose a specific discipline (i.e., via CaRMS match);
2. national career counselling curricula for both medical students and residents be developed and include the following components: national standardization; stakeholder input (students, residents and others); positive and fair role modelling by both residents and practising physicians/faculty, with appropriate professional respect among medical disciplines; and formal and informal mentorship programs;
3. a wide-range of elective opportunities be developed and communicated at a national level;
4. electives reflect a broad spectrum of experiences, including community-based opportunities;
5. clinical experiences be introduced at the earliest possible stage of undergraduate learning;
6. a national policy be implemented to ensure mandatory diversification of student elective experiences; and
7. medical schools be permitted and encouraged to model alternate systems of postgraduate learning.
The need for broad-based medical education
In order to provide medical students with the greatest options for flexibility in medical training, they should be actively encouraged to pursue a broad-based medical education. Previously, CMA advocated for a common postgraduate year (PGY1). In the 2008 Core Competency Project survey, 77% of physician respondents, 70% of medical student respondents and 67% of program director respondents expressed support for first year residents to do a broad-based common PGY1-like rotating internship.9 The rationale for and importance of ensuring flexibility has been outlined in the previous sections.
Capacity of the postgraduate training system
An essential component in ensuring flexibility within the medical training system is to establish and maintain sufficient capacity at the postgraduate training level. This is necessary for the following reasons:
* Sufficient capacity may prevent highly-skilled and well-trained Canadian physicians from being forced to seek postgraduate training in the U.S. and remain there to practise medicine.
* It is necessary to provide IMGs with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. This reflects the CMA's recognition of the important contribution that IMGs have made, and continue to make, in the provision of medical services, teaching and research in Canada. Opportunities for IMGs will also permit Canadians who study medicine abroad to pursue their medical careers in Canada.
* It is essential to provide students with sufficient choice to seek the training that best matches their skills and interests as well as societal demands.
* It is crucial to provide sufficient re-entry positions to allow practising physicians to seek training in other areas of medicine to meet the demands of their communities. [Please refer to the "Re-entry" section of this policy for more details.]
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
8. mechanisms be developed to permit reasonable movement of residents within the overall residency structure and career counselling supports be made available to residents considering such a change;
9. the capacity of the postgraduate training system be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort, and the training needs of international medical graduates;
10. there be a clearly defined pool of re-entry postgraduate positions and positions for international medical graduates;
11. government match and maintain undergraduate medical enrolment with a target of at least 120 ministry-funded postgraduate training positions per 100 Canadian medical graduates, to accommodate the training needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort and international medical graduates; and
12. options be explored for influencing governments to support a flexible postgraduate medical education system that also meets societal needs.
Re-entry medical training system
Note: This section addresses only one kind of designated position, specifically, those for licensed physicians wishing to re-enter training after a period in practice (also known as "re-entry positions"). The re-entry positions addressed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
Increased opportunity for exposure to the breadth of medical fields in undergraduate training, improved undergraduate career counselling and a postgraduate system that makes the changing of disciplines easier are some of the many aspects that should facilitate residents' satisfaction with career choice. There will, however, inevitably be individual cases where issues of societal need, personal health, lifestyle or personal choice necessitate a change in career direction after postgraduate training. This requires the availability of additional postgraduate positions allotted specifically to this sub-set.
A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions is needed within the postgraduate training system to enable practising physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline. While this may apply mostly to family physicians and general practitioners wishing to train in a specialty discipline, it can also include practising specialists wanting to sub-specialize or train in another area, which could be Family Medicine.
The additional or new training of primary care physicians, particularly in obstetrics, emergency medicine, anaesthesia, surgery, psychiatry and general internal medicine, will be of benefit to smaller communities lacking regular access to these specialty medical services. In addition, the availability of adequate re-entry positions may encourage new physicians to accept locum tenens, thus relieving overworked physicians in underserviced communities. Potentially, it could help to increase a community's long-term retention rate of established physicians.
The CMA believes that a well-designed re-entry system for Canadian postgraduate medical education would be characterized by an accessible national registry, long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
Medical students need reassurance that re-entry positions will be available if they wish to re-enter training after a period in practice. This will enable them to better plan their careers, reduce anxieties about career selection and ultimately help to meet the health care needs of society. For physicians re-entering the postgraduate training system, there must also be the guarantee that sufficient program funding will be available to ensure completion of training.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
13. a complement of clearly defined, permanent re-entry positions with stable funding be a basic component of the Canadian postgraduate training system and that the availability of these positions be effectively communicated to potential candidates; and
14. funding for re-entry positions be specifically allocated for the entire training period.
The CMA believes that the capacity of the postgraduate training system must be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the re-entry cohort and that postgraduate re-entry positions should be supernumerary to the numbers required for the graduating cohort. [Please refer to the "Capacity of the Postgraduate Training System" section of this policy for specific recommendations.]
The CMA believes that re-entry physicians should not be restricted to competing for particular disciplines for which there is an identified need in their jurisdiction. Re-entry physicians should also be able to compete for any available disciplines across all training programs. Not every discipline will be available for re-entry each year but all should be accessible over the course of a three-year period.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
15. there be accessibility within re-entry postgraduate training positions including:
* open and fair competition at the national level among all re-entry candidates for the clearly defined pool of re-entry positions,
* that the mix of positions available reflect the overall mix of positions in the postgraduate training system, and
* recognizing the limited size of the re-entry pool, access to all specialties be available over a three-year period rather than on an annual basis; and
16. access to entry should be possible through both national and regional pools of re-entry positions, with a process comparable to that currently used for the postgraduate training system.
Flexibility in the Workforce
As previously mentioned, the re-entry positions discussed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
17. physicians who have retrained through the re-entry system have the same practice opportunities as physicians entering the workforce for the first time.
The CMA recognizes the importance of public accountability and sound fiscal management and therefore recommends that:
18. there be on-going evaluation of the re-entry system in Canadian postgraduate medical education.
1 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
2 2007 National Physician Survey Data.
3 Directions for Residency Education, 2009 - A final report of the Core Competency Project. February 2009. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and College of Family Physicians of Canada.
4 Ibid, page 23.
6 Ibid, page 59.
7 Ibid, page 27.
8 Ibid, page 60.
CMA CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONALISM
A compassionate physician recognizes suffering and vulnerability, seeks to understand the unique circumstances
of each patient and to alleviate the patient’s suffering, and accompanies the suffering and vulnerable patient.
An honest physician is forthright, respects the truth, and does their best to seek, preserve, and communicate
that truth sensitively and respectfully.
A humble physician acknowledges and is cautious not to overstep the limits of their knowledge and skills or the
limits of medicine, seeks advice and support from colleagues in challenging circumstances, and recognizes the
patient’s knowledge of their own circumstances.
A physician who acts with integrity demonstrates consistency in their intentions and actions and acts in a
truthful manner in accordance with professional expectations, even in the face of adversity.
A prudent physician uses clinical and moral reasoning and judgement, considers all relevant knowledge
and circumstances, and makes decisions carefully, in good conscience, and with due regard for principles of
exemplary medical care.
The CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism articulates the ethical and professional commitments and responsibilities of the
medical profession. The Code provides standards of ethical practice to guide physicians in fulfilling their obligation to provide
the highest standard of care and to foster patient and public trust in physicians and the profession. The Code is founded on
and affirms the core values and commitments of the profession and outlines responsibilities related to contemporary medical
In this Code, ethical practice is understood as a process of active inquiry, reflection, and decision-making concerning what
a physician’s actions should be and the reasons for these actions. The Code informs ethical decision-making, especially in
situations where existing guidelines are insufficient or where values and principles are in tension. The Code is not exhaustive;
it is intended to provide standards of ethical practice that can be interpreted and applied in particular situations. The Code and
other CMA policies constitute guidelines that provide a common ethical framework for physicians in Canada.
In this Code, medical ethics concerns the virtues, values, and principles that should guide the medical profession, while
professionalism is the embodiment or enactment of responsibilities arising from those norms through standards,
competencies, and behaviours. Together, the virtues and commitments outlined in the Code are fundamental to the ethical
practice of medicine.
Physicians should aspire to uphold the virtues and commitments in the Code, and they are expected to enact the professional
responsibilities outlined in it.
Physicians should be aware of the legal and regulatory requirements that govern medical practice in their jurisdictions.
Trust is the cornerstone of the patient–physician relationship and of medical professionalism. Trust is therefore
central to providing the highest standard of care and to the ethical practice of medicine. Physicians enhance
trustworthiness in the profession by striving to uphold the following interdependent virtues:
A. VIRTUES EXEMPLIFIED BY THE ETHICAL PHYSICIAN
B. FUNDAMENTAL COMMITMENTS OF THE MEDICAL PROFESSION
Consider first the well-being of the patient; always act to benefit the patient and promote the good of the patient.
Provide appropriate care and management across the care continuum.
Take all reasonable steps to prevent or minimize harm to the patient; disclose to the patient if there is a
risk of harm or if harm has occurred.
Recognize the balance of potential benefits and harms associated with any medical act; act to bring about
a positive balance of benefits over harms.
Commitment to the well-being of the patient
Promote the well-being of communities and populations by striving to improve health outcomes and
access to care, reduce health inequities and disparities in care, and promote social accountability.
Commitment to justice
Practise medicine competently, safely, and with integrity; avoid any influence that could undermine
your professional integrity.
Develop and advance your professional knowledge, skills, and competencies through lifelong learning.
Commitment to professional integrity and competence
Always treat the patient with dignity and respect the equal and intrinsic worth of all persons.
Always respect the autonomy of the patient.
Never exploit the patient for personal advantage.
Never participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.
Commitment to respect for persons
Contribute to the development and innovation in medicine through clinical practice, research, teaching,
mentorship, leadership, quality improvement, administration, or advocacy on behalf of the profession or
Participate in establishing and maintaining professional standards and engage in processes that support
the institutions involved in the regulation of the profession.
Cultivate collaborative and respectful relationships with physicians and learners in all areas of medicine
and with other colleagues and partners in health care.
Commitment to professional excellence
Value personal health and wellness and strive to model self-care; take steps to optimize meaningful
co-existence of professional and personal life.
Value and promote a training and practice culture that supports and responds effectively to colleagues in
need and empowers them to seek help to improve their physical, mental, and social well-being.
Recognize and act on the understanding that physician health and wellness needs to be addressed at
individual and systemic levels, in a model of shared responsibility.
Commitment to self-care and peer support
Value and foster individual and collective inquiry and reflection to further medical science and to
facilitate ethical decision-making.
Foster curiosity and exploration to further your personal and professional development and insight; be
open to new knowledge, technologies, ways of practising, and learning from others.
Commitment to inquiry and reflection
C. PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES
The patient–physician relationship is at the heart of the practice of medicine. It is a relationship of trust that recognizes the
inherent vulnerability of the patient even as the patient is an active participant in their own care. The physician owes a duty of
loyalty to protect and further the patient’s best interests and goals of care by using the physician’s expertise, knowledge, and
prudent clinical judgment.
In the context of the patient–physician relationship:
1. Accept the patient without discrimination (such as on the basis of age, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic
characteristics, language, marital and family status, medical condition, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race,
religion, sex, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status). This does not abrogate the right of the physician to refuse to
accept a patient for legitimate reasons.
2. Having accepted professional responsibility for the patient, continue to provide services until these services are no longer
required or wanted, or until another suitable physician has assumed responsibility for the patient, or until after the
patient has been given reasonable notice that you intend to terminate the relationship.
3. Act according to your conscience and respect differences of conscience among your colleagues; however, meet your
duty of non-abandonment to the patient by always acknowledging and responding to the patient’s medical concerns and
requests whatever your moral commitments may be.
4. Inform the patient when your moral commitments may influence your recommendation concerning provision of, or
practice of any medical procedure or intervention as it pertains to the patient’s needs or requests.
5. Communicate information accurately and honestly with the patient in a manner that the patient understands and can
apply, and confirm the patient’s understanding.
6. Recommend evidence-informed treatment options; recognize that inappropriate use or overuse of treatments or
resources can lead to ineffective, and at times harmful, patient care and seek to avoid or mitigate this.
7. Limit treatment of yourself, your immediate family, or anyone with whom you have a similarly close relationship to
minor or emergency interventions and only when another physician is not readily available; there should be no fee for
8. Provide whatever appropriate assistance you can to any person who needs emergency medical care.
9. Ensure that any research to which you contribute is evaluated both scientifically and ethically and is approved by a
research ethics board that adheres to current standards of practice. When involved in research, obtain the informed
consent of the research participant and advise prospective participants that they have the right to decline to participate
or withdraw from the study at any time, without negatively affecting their ongoing care.
10. Never participate in or condone the practice of torture or any form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedure.
Physicians and patients
11. Empower the patient to make informed decisions regarding their health by communicating with and helping the patient
(or, where appropriate, their substitute decision-maker) navigate reasonable therapeutic options to determine the best
course of action consistent with their goals of care; communicate with and help the patient assess material risks and
benefits before consenting to any treatment or intervention.
12. Respect the decisions of the competent patient to accept or reject any recommended assessment, treatment, or plan of
13. Recognize the need to balance the developing competency of minors and the role of families and caregivers in medical
decision-making for minors, while respecting a mature minor’s right to consent to treatment and manage their personal
14. Accommodate a patient with cognitive impairments to participate, as much as possible, in decisions that affect them;
in such cases, acknowledge and support the positive roles of families and caregivers in medical decision-making and
collaborate with them, where authorized by the patient’s substitute decision-maker, in discerning and making decisions
about the patient’s goals of care and best interests.
15. Respect the values and intentions of a patient deemed incompetent as they were expressed previously through advance
care planning discussions when competent, or via a substitute decision-maker.
16. When the specific intentions of an incompetent patient are unknown and in the absence of a formal mechanism for
making treatment decisions, act consistently with the patient’s discernable values and goals of care or, if these are
unknown, act in the patient’s best interests.
17. Respect the patient’s reasonable request for a second opinion from a recognized medical expert.
Physicians and the practice of medicine
Patient privacy and the duty of confidentiality
18. Fulfill your duty of confidentiality to the patient by keeping identifiable patient information confidential; collecting,
using, and disclosing only as much health information as necessary to benefit the patient; and sharing information only
to benefit the patient and within the patient’s circle of care. Exceptions include situations where the informed consent of
the patient has been obtained for disclosure or as provided for by law.
19. Provide the patient or a third party with a copy of their medical record upon the patient’s request, unless there is a
compelling reason to believe that information contained in the record will result in substantial harm to the patient or
20. Recognize and manage privacy requirements within training and practice environments and quality improvement
initiatives, in the context of secondary uses of data for health system management, and when using new technologies in
21. Avoid health care discussions, including in personal, public, or virtual conversations, that could reasonably be seen as
revealing confidential or identifying information or as being disrespectful to patients, their families, or caregivers.
Medical decision-making is ideally a deliberative process that engages the patient in shared decision-making and is informed
by the patient’s experience and values and the physician’s clinical judgment. This deliberation involves discussion with the
patient and, with consent, others central to the patient’s care (families, caregivers, other health professionals) to support
In the process of shared decision-making:
22. Recognize that conflicts of interest may arise as a result of competing roles (such as financial, clinical, research,
organizational, administrative, or leadership).
23. Enter into associations, contracts, and agreements that maintain your professional integrity, consistent with evidenceinformed
decision-making, and safeguard the interests of the patient or public.
24. Avoid, minimize, or manage and always disclose conflicts of interest that arise, or are perceived to arise, as a result of
any professional relationships or transactions in practice, education, and research; avoid using your role as a physician to
promote services (except your own) or products to the patient or public for commercial gain outside of your treatment role.
25. Take reasonable steps to ensure that the patient understands the nature and extent of your responsibility to a third party
when acting on behalf of a third party.
26. Discuss professional fees for non-insured services with the patient and consider their ability to pay in determining fees.
27. When conducting research, inform potential research participants about anything that may give rise to a conflict of
interest, especially the source of funding and any compensation or benefits.
28. Be aware of and promote health and wellness services, and other resources, available to you and colleagues in need.
29. Seek help from colleagues and appropriate medical care from qualified professionals for personal and professional
problems that might adversely affect your health and your services to patients.
30. Cultivate training and practice environments that provide physical and psychological safety and encourage help-seeking
31. Treat your colleagues with dignity and as persons worthy of respect. Colleagues include all learners, health care partners,
and members of the health care team.
32. Engage in respectful communications in all media.
33. Take responsibility for promoting civility, and confronting incivility, within and beyond the profession. Avoid impugning
the reputation of colleagues for personal motives; however, report to the appropriate authority any unprofessional
conduct by colleagues.
34. Assume responsibility for your personal actions and behaviours and espouse behaviours that contribute to a positive
training and practice culture.
35. Promote and enable formal and informal mentorship and leadership opportunities across all levels of training, practice,
and health system delivery.
36. Support interdisciplinary team-based practices; foster team collaboration and a shared accountability for patient care.
Physicians and self
Physicians and colleagues
Managing and minimizing conflicts of interest
38. Recognize that social determinants of health, the environment, and other fundamental considerations that extend
beyond medical practice and health systems are important factors that affect the health of the patient and of
39. Support the profession’s responsibility to act in matters relating to public and population health, health education,
environmental determinants of health, legislation affecting public and population health, and judicial testimony.
40. Support the profession’s responsibility to promote equitable access to health care resources and to promote resource
41. Provide opinions consistent with the current and widely accepted views of the profession when interpreting scientific
knowledge to the public; clearly indicate when you present an opinion that is contrary to the accepted views of the
42. Contribute, where appropriate, to the development of a more cohesive and integrated health system through interprofessional
collaboration and, when possible, collaborative models of care.
43. Commit to collaborative and respectful relationships with Indigenous patients and communities through efforts
to understand and implement the recommendations relevant to health care made in the report of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
44. Contribute, individually and in collaboration with others, to improving health care services and delivery to address
systemic issues that affect the health of the patient and of populations, with particular attention to disadvantaged,
vulnerable, or underserved communities.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors Dec 2018
37. Commit to ensuring the quality of medical services offered to patients and society through the establishment and
maintenance of professional standards.
Physicians and society