Saudi Arabian medical residents and clinical fellows caught in the middle of diplomatic spat

Saudi Arabian medical residents and clinical fellows are finding themselves in the middle of the escalating diplomatic spat between the kingdom and Canada.

UBC’s faculty of medicine issued a statement today on the potential forced withdrawal of 20 residents and 24 clinical fellows within the faculty, which forms a sizable chunk of the roughly 280 incoming and current Saudi students at UBC. According to an earlier statement published today by President Santa Ono, 80 per cent of the 280 students are supported by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau.

“The UBC Faculty of Medicine’s focus right now is on ensuring that the trainees and their families are supported during this challenging time,” said Dr. Roger Wong, the faculty’s executive associate dean of education, in the written statement.

He added that his faculty is also working with provincial health authorities to prepare for the potential forced withdrawal of the affected residents and clinical fellows.

“The Faculty of Medicine is hopeful that the issues between Canada and Saudi Arabia can be resolved and that our Saudi Arabian postgraduate medical trainees can complete their programs without disruption, and continue to support the health care needs of British Columbians,” Wong said.

This student recall is the latest in a number of retaliations the Saudi Arabian government has ordered in response to Canada’s criticism of its treatment of human rights activists, including UBC alumna Loujain Al-Hathloul who has been detained on unknown charges since May 15.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze all trade relations and recalled its roughly 16,000 students from Canada.

The Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau’s Canadian website claims that 95 per cent of foreign medical trainees in Canada are from the kingdom. The Toronto Star reports that more than 200 of the University of Toronto’s residents and fellows are from Saudi Arabia.

While the exact numbers of Saudi Arabian residents in the country are uncertain, many experts are concerned about the effect the withdrawal could have for Canadian hospitals and medical centres.

Resident Doctors of Canada, an organization that represents over 9,000 doctors across the country, expressed concerns about the impact the decision could have on “medical students, residents, and our system’s ability to provide quality and timely care.”

“We are concerned about the potential implications on the affected Residents and are hopeful that this situation will be resolved further to the discussions that are ongoing,” said Harry Gray, executive director of Resident Doctors of BC, in a written statement to The Ubyssey.

“At present we do not have enough verified information to make additional comments.”