As a result of increased professional migration, a large number of doctors are seeking licensure in a country other than where they were educated . Known as International Medical Graduates (IMGs), they comprise approximately one quarter of the physician workforce in countries such as Canada, the U.S., the U.K., and Australia . Despite their demonstrated competence and value to society, they are faced with many challenging assessment procedures and limited practice opportunities, which reportedly may result in alienation and isolation [3–5]. To facilitate their integration into the profession while ensuring that they meet standards of competence, it is critical that we understand how they develop their professional identity. The purpose of the present study was to identify how each group of IMGs decided to become doctors while they were applying for certification.
International medical graduates
There are two main types of IMGs who apply for licensure: Those who were local citizens before leaving to study medicine in a foreign country, and those who had studied medicine in a foreign country before immigrating. In Canada, the former group is known as Canadian International Medical Graduates (CIMGs), and the latter throughout this paper are referred to as non-CIMGs. Motivations for seeking licensure in Canada may differ between these groups, but this has not yet been empirically examined. It has been suggested that Canadian citizens may acquire their medical degrees outside of Canada for various reasons such as the inability to gain acceptance in a Canadian medical school, interest in experiencing life in a foreign country, or the desire to visit a country of their family’s origin. Having obtained their degree, they then wish to return to Canada to establish a long-term career in medicine. Non-CIMGs, in contrast, have obtained their medical degree in their country of citizenship, and move to Canada to practice medicine for reasons such as employment opportunities, safety, political stability, and quality of life [6, 7]. The procedures for licensure in Canada are similar for both groups.
To practice medicine in Canada, applicants must complete a series of assessments and residency experience. These requirements are established by several medical organizations including the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the Medical Council of Canada, College of Family Physicians, and the provincial licensing authorities (e.g. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario), as well as doctor organizations such as the Canadian Medical Association. Generally, the medical school of graduation must be one that is included in the World Health Organization’s directory of medical institutions, and the medical degree must be verified by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates International Credentials Services. Once qualifications have been verified, applicants must first pass the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination Part 1. Upon demonstrating proficiency in English, they must take an Objective Structured Clinical Examination, and complete a residency program. Evaluation is conducted on continual performance until the period of supervised practice is complete. Successful IMGs are granted a license at this point, but may be required to participate in mentorship and multi-source feedback programs.
Achieving all of these milestones involves numerous professional and personal challenges. IMGs need to adapt to methods of learning, clinical procedures and knowledge, health care systems, patient expectations, collegial and supervisory relationships, team approaches, communication styles, legislative acts, legal issues, college requirements, and language improvement . Additional difficulties include finding employment, and integrating into the professional role. They also bear the costs of becoming licensed, must access information on licensure procedures, and have the burden of studying for and passing exams [9, 10].
The transition in medical practice from one country to another may be characterized as a “disorienting journey” . Uncertainty about obtaining a license and restrictions to practice may be upsetting, but it may also promote one’s exploration of personal and professional identity. This may actually present an opportunity for IMGs to further their resolve to become recognized as doctors in a country other than where they were educated, or challenge their beliefs about their desire to do so. It can, moreover, be investigated empirically.
Ego identity status
The process of developing a personal sense of identity is known as ego growth, or ego identity [12, 13]. One’s selfhood or individuality emerges as a result of social interactions within the family and larger society based on norms of behaviour . According to Damon , p.5, “The individual can only construct the self in the context of relations with others, but at the same time, the individual must step beyond the confines of those relations and forge a unique destiny.” Marcia’s [16, 17] approach to ego identity was to examine how individuals make decisions about their religious and political beliefs, friendships, dating, recreational activities, and careers. Applied to career decision-making, he identified four pathways to forming a vocational identity (i.e., identity statuses), which are based on levels of exploration and commitment. There are two statuses of high commitment: Identity-achieved refers to people who have sought various career opportunities before making a commitment to pursue a specific career. Foreclosed refers to people who have also made a strong commitment to a career but have done so without having explored other careers. This commitment may occur in response to their perceptions of pressure by family members to choose a specific career. There are also two statuses of low commitment: Identity-moratorium is classified when people “try out” different careers without a commitment to any particular one. Finally, diffusion represents non-committal actions and little examination of career choices. High and low levels of commitment and exploration can be analyzed to determine how people make a decision about a career.
Despite decades of research on the theoretical importance and practical value of Marcia’s ego identity conceptualization , it has not been systematically applied to understanding how people choose a career in medicine. Two noteworthy studies have focused on ego identity development in medical students. In one study, Niemi  classified half of the participants into two of the four identity statuses to determine how pre-clinical students selected a medical specialization (the remaining students were not classified). Specifically, about a quarter had actively considered many specializations and made a firm decision on one (achieved). A similar number of students had neither considered nor selected a specialization (diffused). In another study conducted by Beran et al. , all sampled students in their clinical year of medical school were assessed for identity status. Almost half of the clinical students were achieved and half were foreclosed, with only 1% in the moratorium category, and none diffused.
The ego identity status of IMGs has not yet been examined. It is not known the extent to which they explore and commit to medicine as a career choice when facing immense personal and professional challenges. The psychological adaptation IMGs must make is critical to establishing personal and professional competence as a physician . This process, however, has not been systematically studied. The purpose of the present study was to identify the ego identity status of IMGs, and whether it differs between CIMGs and non-CIMGs.