Doctors with borders

York University film students have the exciting opportunity of seeing their work aired on prime time television thanks to a professional collaboration between OMNI Television and the Department of Film.

Their one-hour documentary, Doctors with Borders, presents compelling portraits of four highly-skilled, foreign-trained doctors and the challenges they have faced in trying to get licensed to practice in Ontario. The film profiles Nazia Tauseef (Pakistan), Slobodan Lemecz (Bosnia), Abdel Bashir (Sudan), and Gabriel Cardenas (Guatemala) as they move through Ontario’s complex recertification process.

Both informative and provocative, Doctors with Borders engages hearts and minds while raising awareness on a controversial and very topical issue: the apparent shortage of family doctors in the province, and the plight of immigrants eager to fill the gap, whose professional qualifications are not fully recognized within the Ontario health system.

The film takes the stance that there is actually no shortage of family doctors because Ontario has a pool of about 4,000 trained International Medical Graduates, many of whom only need minimal upgrading or familiarization with the Canadian medical culture. The assessment of these internationally-trained physicians and the lengthy process to become a licensed physician in Ontario has resulted in a large number of people trying to pass through a very small regulatory funnel. The film demonstrates how changes in regulatory procedures have simply not kept pace with immigration policy.

Commissioned by OMNI Television, Doctors with Borders was conceived and carried out as an extra-curricular project by York’s Film Department. Each of the four segments was created by a team of upper-year students, mentored by faculty members who are themselves professional filmmakers. Over the course of the last 18 months, the students were involved in all aspects of the productions: researching and interviewing the subjects, scriptwriting, directing, and cinematography, sound, editing and post-production.

Doctors with Borders is a portentously meaningful achievement,” said York film Professor Tereza Barta, a Gemini Award-winning filmmaker who served as project coordinator. “It is palpable evidence of the level of maturity, creative talent and thoughtful engagement with which the new generation of Canadian filmmakers is addressing crucial issues in our society.”

The York students who directed the four segments of Doctors with Borders are Franci Duran, who has just completed her second year of studies in the masters program in film; Hugh Gibson, who graduated from York’s film program last year and is the director of the award-winning film Hogtown Blues; fourth-year student Marc Betsworth; and Aaron Van Borek, who is graduating this month with his BFA in film.

Duran created the portrait of Nazia Tauseef (Pakistan) under the mentorship of York film Professor Brenda Longfellow. Married and the mother of two children, Tauseef is an obstetrician and gynecologist with 10 years of clinical experience. In Canada for just a year, she was working as a receptionist at a walk-in-clinic at the time of filming. Her story is the first segment in Doctors with Borders.

The second segment is a portrait of Slobodan Lemecz (Bosnia), created by Gibson under the guidance of Professor Antonin Lhotsky. Lemecz was an affluent and experienced physician in Bosnia, who ran two clinics during the siege of Sarajevo before fleeing with his family to Toronto in 1994. Since then, he has struggled to build a new life and practice his profession.

Betsworth created the portrait of Abdel Bashir (Sudan) under the mentorship of York film professor Laurence Green (director of Alter Egos and Thin Ice). Bashir left his war-torn homeland a decade ago with the dream of living in a peaceful country and pursuing his career in medicine. Keeping this dream alive proved to be a formidable challenge as he faced the onerous task of transferring his medical knowledge into a reticent Ontario system.

The final segment, a portrait of Gabriel Cardenas (Guatemala), was created by Van Borek under Barta’s guidance. After finishing his medical degree in his homeland, Cardenas wanted his family to have a life of greater opportunity and security, and they immigrated to Canada in 1987. In making the move, Cardenas was faced with a compromise he hadn’t fully anticipated: not being able to put his medical knowledge into full practice as he had always dreamed of doing.

For the student directors, making these films was an intense and often emotional experience. Van Borek said: “Gabriel has such a kind and generous spirit that I think anyone who meets him, or watches his story in the documentary can’t help but like him and want to know more about him. Gabriel let my crew and me into his home, into his family, and into his heart, sharing his deepest feelings and thoughts with us. He even shared a delicious Guatemalan meal with us. He has a very fatherly nature and he considers all of us who worked on the project friends, and has invited us back to visit. I am so thankful to have met him and been given the chance to learn about him and his story.”

Doctors with Borders premiered on OMNI.2 on April 30 and will be re-broadcast as part of OMNI.1’s Signature Series on June 11 at 9pm. A Spanish-language version will be aired on OMNI.1 on June 18 at 10pm and June 23 at 2pm.

The film Doctors with Borders is in no way related to the charitable organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières).

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena, Faculty of Fine Arts.