Step 3:  Understanding the Canadian Healthcare System

Map of Canada

Publically Funded Healthcare

Canadians often refer to our healthcare plan as “medicare” or “universal healthcare.” The Canadian Health Act, a law passed by the federal government, ensures that all eligible residents of Canada are guaranteed reasonable access to healthcare without financial or other barriers.  

Ours is a system dependent on both the federal and provincial/territorial government for delivery of services. The federal government collects revenue through taxation and then distributes transfer payments to the provinces and territories on a population and/or need basis. Each province and territory administers its own health insurance plan based on the national principles established at the federal level. Some additional monies may be raised at the provincial/territorial level through lotteries, donations and other philanthropic means.

The federal government administers health care directly to Canada’s indigenous communities, military personnel, veterans, RCMP and federal penitentiary inmates.


What is Covered and What is Not

Most medically necessary treatments offered to patients in hospitals or through primary care physician office appointments are paid for by the health care plan.  Canada does not have a universal “pharma care” program although diagnostic procedures, medications and treatments received during hospital appointments or stays are covered by the healthcare plan.  Dental surgery performed in hospital is paid for by the plan, as well.  Dental treatments and procedures performed in private dental offices are not covered.  Optical examinations may be covered while corrective lens are not.

Private Healthcare Insurance

Many Canadians have private healthcare insurance to pay for those treatments and medications not funded by the public plan.  This insurance may be paid fully or in part by employers as a workplace benefit.  Many others choose to purchase private insurance themselves from one of many private insurers to cover treatments, procedures, optometry needs, dental services and medications not covered by the public plan.

Patient Centered Model of Care Delivery

Canadian health practitioners practise a patient centered model of care.  This means that the provider must respect and respond to each patient’s preferences, needs, and values, and ensure that the patient’s values guide all clinical decisions. Patients have the right to be part of the decision process for their care and they can decide not to receive treatment.
You will be expected to understand your role within the system as a practitioner.  A jurisprudence exam which tests your understanding of these rules, scope of practice etc. is part of the licensure process.

Inter-professional Team Approach to Patient Care

Practitioners from many different professions may form a patient’s care team.  The multi discipline approach to care delivery may  include  any number of autonomous professionals such  as physicians, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dieticians, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, radiation and/or medical laboratory technologists etc who work together to deliver optimal care to a patient.  Each is respected for his or her own expertise in this  collegial environment.

Orientation Programs to Canada’s Healthcare System

Many institutions and agencies throughout the country offer courses for Orientation to the Canadian healthcare system.   These may be offered either online or through a classroom setting.  Some regulators require you to take it as part of your registration process.  Check the regulators website for further information.

Consider this University of Toronto online program.