Hamida Faiqe, A General Surgeon from Afghanistan
By Claire Hayes
Hamida Faiqe (37), who was a Medical Professional in Afghanistan, immigrated to Canada in December 2007 with family sponsorship. Once being a General Surgeon in Kabul city, now she works as a temporary employee in public sector. I met Hamida in 2013 when she finally started getting an office job after she had worked in stores for several years.
I can still recall being astounded when I heard that she once was a medical practitioner. Hamida, who should be working in hospital or medical clinic in common sense, was then doing data entry and other clerical job to make a living. It didn’t seem to me as perfectly making sense. So I had to ask her about the story behind and this is what she said:
What made you decide to come to Canada?
I came here to join my family with a dream to have a better life. I believed that I would be able to find a good job like Physicians because I was an internationally trained medical doctor.
Were you not concerned as you might have difficulties to find a job in your field when you made a decision to immigrate?
I did think that I might have to start from the bottom to work as a first year medical practitioner in Canada although I do have four year experience working in the field. I mean, I was ready to start as a first year resident even though I completed my residency with more than enough time in Kabul city. But, I had no doubt in being able to get a job in my field.
Have you done your research about employment markets in Canada before you landed?
Yes, I did research on the websites and tried to contact with friends living in Canada. Those friends were not medical professionals though. Based on my research, I learned as I had to pass a Medical Exam, so called Evaluation and Qualification Exams, to become a medical practitioner in Canada.
Have you tried those exams?
As soon as I arrived in Canada, I tried my best to pass the exams for residency and I did pass. But, I couldn’t find anywhere to use them. There was no response from anywhere I knocked with. In fact I spent a lot of money to pay the fees to apply for those exams. I started being puzzled.
Could you tell me a bit about your time at Medical School in Afghanistan?
I finished High school when I was at 11th grade and received an admission to Medical School after taking the General Exam. After seven-year-studying in Med School including one year of on the job training, I chose to take my residency specialized with General Surgery for four years. As soon as my residency completed, I became a General Surgery Specialist and started working for Red Cross Hospital where is the biggest hospital in Kabul City, Afghanistan.
Have you ever studied in different countries?
Yes. I finished my Medical Doctor’s degree in Afghanistan with attending a few short-term training programs in India, Tajikistan, and Iran.
After you became a General Surgery Specialist, you mentioned you had worked with different organizations for several years. Could you talk about it a bit more?
Yes, I have experience working with different Organizations, mostly in health related field. I started working as a General Surgeon at Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital in Kabul city, which is known as the Red Cross Hospital. I worked there for five Years.
Then I worked with Safe the Children in different provinces in Afghanistan including the Kabul city for three years. It was the part-time position as a Medical Practitioner.
With the War begun, we relocated to India for about a year, where I found a job with WHO not as a medical doctor but as an employee with general tasks in health related field. Then we came back to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan Medical School system is very similar to one in London, England. If you want to become a medical professional in Afghanistan, you must take the General Exam after you graduate from High School. Once you pass the General Exam with higher marks, you become entitled to obtain admissions to either Medical School or Law School.
Students are required staying for seven years to complete all the curriculum in medical school including one year of on the job training. There are two choices for the medical school graduates. One is to continue four-year-residency to become a Specialist, while the other is to find a job as General Practitioners.
Now we go back to the time when you just arrived in Ottawa. It was about 10 years ago and I see that you have occasionally worked under the casual employment since then, which means you haven’t found a permanent position up to the present not just in your field but from any other field. Between then and now, do you feel different in terms of the difficulties to find a job? Did it get easier or harder?
As soon as I landed in Canada, I tried very hard to find a residency position in my field including any job even at the stores to make a living. I should say that it was much harder back then, even a job at the stores.
And it didn’t take that long for me to learn about the significance of networking and the Canadian education background to get hired sooner as new arrivals in town.
For about one year of spending time in vain, I finally found a Sales Clerk position at a store. However, I continued looking for any position in the health related field. In addition, I tried to get the Canadian Medical Equivalency based on my past career experience, which cost me a lot to take tests that were supposed to provide me opportunities to apply for Residency. I did pass the tests ad apply in 2009 and 2010, yet received no response ever after.
I started being concerned about my future and began to think that I had better study something instead of working at the stores. Within the reasons, I actually went back to school, majored Political Science and International Relations at Carleton University, in continuing applying for Residency, which cost me $1,500 each year.
With one more degree from the Canadian educational system, I became a more qualified candidate for many job openings; however, as you see, I am still working as a temporary employee here and there.
Since you mentioned it again, you said you had worked as a Sales Clerk in stores once. Have you ever worked in stores when you lived in Afghanistan?
No. I had never worked in stores before I landed in Canada. It was my first time.
How was it like when you were being a Sales Clerk for the first time?
I must say that my working in stores weren’t at all bad idea after all. As a former General Surgeon however, it was difficult for me not physically but emotionally. I couldn’t help but feel bad and unfair whenever I get to think about the situation in Canada, which there are immediate needs on more medical professionals all the time and I am one of them, but there is no place for me to practice. The thought about my skills and knowledge that I can’t use made me sad from time to time. Anyhow, I always tried to think positively and did not want to cause any troubles in this society; therefore, I was able to work fine in stores. The thing is, after I started working in stores, I became able to support myself financially again at least. That was a big relief.
As for the working conditions in stores, is there anything you want to share such as the salary satisfaction, or any difficulties to adapt?
The salary was not enough to make a living because it was also the minimum wage in Ontario with not enough work hours. Jobs working full times in stores seemed rare. Living on a low-income, you cannot expect anything else but surviving. No secure at all, physically and financially.
Do you believe you would practice again someday in the future as General Surgeon or other health professionals?
Yes, I stick on positive thinking. But I admit that in Canada, it is very difficult for someone like me to get a chance to practice again.
When someone asks what your profession is, how do your respond nowadays?
I avoid revealing as I used to be a medical professional unless it’s necessary. I do not want to mention about it any longer. Whenever I tell someone that I was once a General Surgeon, it reminds me of my past passionately working with patients, and then I get depressed about my current situation that had become out of my hands. I think the barrier seeming too strong to overcome frustrates me sometimes; I thus stopped mentioning about it one day.
Have you ever regretted of the immigration to Canada?
Over all, living in Canada is good because it is a peaceful nation compare to Afghanistan. But, yes, there were moments when I looked back and missed what I had in my country. If I had kept living in Afghanistan, I could’ve saved a lot of lives with my medical skills and knowledge and accomplished many things in my field for last ten years.
So you haven't had a chance to work in the hospitals in Canada. Correct?
Correct if you meant as a medical professional. I couldn’t even find a PSW position.
What is PSW?
Personal Support Worker in the hospitals and clinics. To become eligible for PSW, we need to take six-month-courses extended up to 12 months for some cases.
Any experience with which you had ever got close to the health related field in your career path in Canada?
A couple of times. I worked for Health Canada as an Administrative Assistant in the Office of Control Substance. I had a six month long contract first and then recalled for three months after.
It seems that you finally had your feet in your field although the job title was involved with Administration. Did Health Canada place you in Administration after the review of your resume?
Not exactly. I found this position through the service of a staffing agency named Quantum. Quantum was the first place responded to my resume after I sent out about a million of them.
Which means, you physically worked in the office of Health Canada, but not as their employee but as an employee of this Staffing Agency. Correct?
What kind of assignments did you work on?
Mostly with general office duties in administration, such as receiving requests from different pharmacies, inputting data in the system, and sending out the authorization letters to pharmacies based on the requests processed by other staff.
How was it like to work for Health Canada in terms of the treatment between its regular employees and someone like you from staffing agency service?
The first office where I worked for six months was quite agreeable. Co-workers were nice, helpful, and respectful to temporary staff like me. But the second contract with three months at a different office was not. It was hard to withstand even for three months. I think it depends on who you get to work with. We are like unappreciated employees.
As we both know, your salary scales are quite different from ones of Health Canada employees when you got a position through staffing agencies, even though you work on the same tasks from the same position with regular employees. Correct?
Exactly. My income back then was at the level of the minimum wage in Ontario. It was $10.25 per hour. All those regular employees who work on the same tasks probably earned over $20 to $25 per hour.
Were you able to manage your living with the income at the minimum wage level?
Not enough as you can imagine. Regardless, there was no position for me to be picky or to complain since I had been unemployed quite a long time and It was only a temporary job.
Over all, despite the prevailing circumstances, you were working in Health related field at last. What was the impression of these experiences?
The job hardly provided opportunities to use much of my medical professional skills and knowledge. But, I was glad that I finally was able to work in the health related environment even with a tiny relation. And it certainly was better than working in stores.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. Your persistence making constant effort to better future truly impressed me. Lastly, is there anything that you would like to add? or do you have any advice to other medical professionals who want to immigrate to Canada?
I would advise them to be positive all the time and to think about our future instead of what we were in our past. I believe we should continue and devote ourselves to overcome the barriers to achieve more than before.
Claire Hayes is one of the founding persons of The TOME (www.thetome.org) with her fellow researcher and film producers. She studied both Political Science & Journalism and is doing research on the subjects and issues relevant to her studies. She often states her views about politics and the media in Korea, and the events raised on the Korean Peninsula. She can be reached at email@example.com.