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Ukrainian pediatrician has hurdles to clear before she can see patients

Iryna Derunets is the only pediatric ear nose and throat specialist in north-central B.C., but needs permanent residency status before she can see patients in Prince George

Ukrainian war refugee Iryna Derunets has five years of experience working with young patients as a pediatric ear nose and throat specialist but isn't allowed to use her medical abilities in Canada.

Even though there are no pediatric ENTs in northern B.C. and she could fill that shortage, Derunets is unable to work in Canada until she clears several bureaucratic hurdles.

First, she has to pass an English test to show proficiency in reading, writing and speaking the language. Although she speaks English fluently and her husband Vasyl can carry a conversation without difficulty, a passing grade on the test is required before they can apply for permanent residency.

“Writing is bad, we’re practicing doing that, we need more vocabulary,” said Iryna.

Before work, four days a week, she and Vasyl each spend an hour taking online language lessons with a Ukrainian English teacher. They also attend Westwood Mennonite Brethren Church on Sundays for regular church services and meet Wednesday evenings for microchurch coffee/dessert gatherings.

“It helps us a lot,” said Iryna.

Once Iryna has her permanent residency document, to work as a doctor in Canada she would have to pass the Medical Council of Canada qualifying exam and the National Assessment Collaboration exam, which is offered just twice a year. She also would have to complete a two-year internship.

“It’s not hard, it’s just taking time,” said the 31-year-old. “I just need to prepare for the English exam and thanks to Northern Health I have enough money because the exams cost a lot of money. Each exam costs around $2,000 and it’s $300 for the English exam. To take the course to prepare for this medical exam costs around $5,000.”

The Derunets came to Prince George on May 24, 2022. They had been living in Vinnytsia, in central Ukraine, and were in Spain visiting Iryna’s brother when the war began that year on Feb. 24.

Iryna works as a project coordinator for Northern Health’s primary and community care department and had her one-year contract extended two months before she starts a new job in January as a mental health clinical specialist at UHNBC. She will be working with adults who have mental health issues and/or substance addictions.

“I’m excited to do something clinical,” she said.

Vasyl, now 36, has nine years of university training and was working as a pharmaceutical manager at a private medical clinic in Vinnytsia when the war began. He got a job in construction as soon as he arrived in Prince George and worked at that for about a year before Northern Health hired him in April as an advisor overseeing physician contracts in the medical assayers department.

He knows he would likely have to move to larger city to resume his pharmaceutical work but says there are health care jobs in Prince George he plans to pursue once he has permanent residency status. They like the city and its close proximity to natural areas and ski resorts.

“Prince George is a very good place for us to start everything and I believe we will  stay here,” said Vasyl. “I’m very happy to be with Northern Health and right now I can see a lot of opportunities with Northern Health.”

In January, Vasyl’s father Serhii and step-mother Svitlana, their two sons, Alxander, 15, and Dmytro, 14, and nine-year-old daughter Alina came to live with them in Prince George and they all share a house in the Hart.

Iryna and Vasyl send a portion of their wages to Iryna’s parents in Vinnytsia.

“They are safe,” said Iryna.

Her mom works in a hospital as receptionist and her father lost his job in a factory due to the war. He’s looking after the dogs they left behind in Ukraine.

Prince George is now home to 235 Ukrainians from 84 families who left their country because of the war. The city has hosted 45 others over the past 18 months, who have since relocated to other Canadian cities or towns.