Meet Toronto’s the Dr. Cabbie.
Three years ago, an Indian pediatrician and newly arrived immigrant to Canada found himself thrust in the glare of media.
Unlike a Bollywood film where his heroism would have seen him riding happily into the sunset, reality was something of a bitter medicine.
Here’s what happened: Dr. Balvinder Singh, 42, was on a Delhi –Toronto Air India flight when a woman went into labour. The Punjab native used scotch to sterilize the scissors. A sewing kit went towards clamping the umbilical chord of the newborn and the microwave was put to use to heat the blanket to swaddle the baby.
Akash Leen Kaur weighed seven pounds and made a somewhat dramatic entry into the world, some 11,000 metres above the skies of Kazakhstan.
In the days that followed, as reports of Balvinder’s deed spread, media from every corner of the world clamoured to interview him. Interestingly, he gave phone interviews to the press while plying his route as a trucker. The media had a field-of-a-day reporting the paradox of a fully qualified and experienced doctor driving an 18-wheeler in Canada.
Balvinder soon became the poster child for “Canada’s broken immigration policy,” except as with everything, this story too has many layers.
So, recently when the buzz around Dr. Cabbie intensified. I sought Balvinder out to see how his life had panned out since his 15-minutes of fame.
For those unaware, Dr. Cabbie’s plot revolves around how an Indian doctor turns his taxi into a mobile clinic when faced with rejection by the Canadian accreditation system. In the celluloid version, everything works out well for the hero. Our real life Dr. Cabbie has an entirely different story to report.
Few months into his new life in Canada, Balvinder became resigned to the fact that his life as a physician was over. So, he enrolled in a trucking course and cleared it with flying colours.
Most people would have been bitter about having to drive a truck when they ideally should be handling a stethoscope. But not Balvinder.
He told me he was fully aware when filing his papers that he would face an uphill battle finding a job as a physician. Like most newcomers, he immigrated to the country to provide better opportunities for his children.
A few weeks into his trucking job, Balvinder quit. Disheartened, but not discouraged, he applied for jobs in the clinical research area and worked briefly in the field, but his contract was not renewed because of lack of funding. So once again he found himself at the crossroads.
“I was a misfit as a trucker,” he said. “I was physically not fit for it and the hours were difficult for my family as my wife was working two jobs and there was no one to take care of my children. Last year, I applied for 70 jobs, but I did not get a single interview. Since my priority has always been my family, I don’t regret or feel disappointed about working as a security guard or a trucker.”
He then trained to become a security guard.
“The worst thing in life is staying at home doing nothing. I couldn’t do that,” he told Toronto Desi Diaries.
He was briefly dejected when he did not receive a single response from prospective employers, but he did not give up. He continued to work as a security guard. Then six months ago, he and a friend started a foot-clinic. He still continues to work as a security personnel, occasionally.
Balvinder has been knocked-down several times in life, but he retains his sense of humour and positive attitude. He’s an inspiration.
“I have enjoyed fame, success and money,” he said. “All I can tell you is that it’s lonely at the top…”
Getting accredited as a physician in Canada can be frustrating because even though most foreign-trained professionals clear the exams, they are up against the wall when it comes to finding residency. There aren’t enough spots and the ones that are available are offered to Canadian students who undergo their MD training abroad. According to a new study, only half of international medical graduates in Canada are currently working as doctors. The rest are languishing in survival jobs.
In the study conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, researchers found in 2011, 1,800 applicants competed for 191 residency spots designated for foreign-trained physicians in Ontario, but only 55 per cent of these graduates ended up working as physicians.
Balvinder admitted to being curious about Dr. Cabbie and vowed to check it out.
“When you see it (film) from the perspective of past, it’s easy to chuckle,” he said, “But while you are going through it, you will literally feel the pain. I will still say, challenges are part of life and I can’t blame Canada for my life because we opted for the greener pastures… Canada is a land of opportunities, but you need time to cash in on those opportunities.”