Ontario has promised to put immigrant nurses to work faster. This change is long overdue


This column is an opinion piece written by Yamaan Alsumadi, a nursing student in Thunder Bay, Ontario. For more information on CBC Opinion Sectionplease consult the FAQs.

I’m a fourth-year nursing student at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and I’m in a classroom full of perfectly qualified people to help address Ontario’s health care shortage.

Instead, they retrain because their credentials don’t matter.

This summer, Ontario’s health care shortages reached critical levels, with emergency rooms closing and nurses and doctors exhausted.

Ontario’s health system problems have been going on for years, but this summer’s shortages forced the Ontario government to act. This month, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones endorsed a plan by the province’s college of nursing to get more internationally educated nurses into practice sooner..

This is a change that is overdue and needs to be implemented as soon as possible.

At present, there are 5,970 active international applicants currently living in Ontarioaccording to the latest statistics from the College of Nurses of Ontario.

Some of them are my colleagues at Lakehead’s School of Nursing, and many are doctors or registered nurses in other countries who end up getting another nursing degree in Canada to make sure they enroll and to work.

But for those who immigrate with their families, they face a choice: work in a minimum-wage job or put the family under financial pressure to get a degree. Essentially: My career or my children?

A friend of mine is a registered nurse from France with 15 years of experience in the intensive care unit. She has all the skills she needs to get to the ER right now, but here she’s sitting in a classroom, learning skills she’s practiced thousands of times before.

Another friend is a cardiothoracic surgeon who could not find a school to complete her residency in Canada; she is now a personal support worker, with a limited scope of practice compared to registered nurses, let alone a doctor.

For most nursing positions in Ontario, the minimum requirement is a degree in nursing from a Canadian university or Ontario college. Although there is an opportunity for nurses educated outside the country to have their credentials recognized, some nurses report wait times of several years.

The College of Nurses says the changes will allow internationally trained nurse applicants with educational gaps “to register and practice as a nurse under the terms, conditions and limitations for the protection of the public while they fulfill the remaining requirements”.

Therefore, it proposes to allow candidates who have completed approved nursing education in another jurisdiction to register temporarily, although they will need to be followed by a licensed practical nurse, registered nurse or nurse practitioner. A practice that is already being done for nursing students across the country to build their nursing experience.

This will increase the number of people working on the unit, minimizing the physical strain nurses have to endure when understaffed, while allowing internationally educated nurses to gain the knowledge necessary to practice nursing, in accordance with the standards of practice in Ontario.

Nursing and healthcare shortages have become common and frequent. At times, emergency rooms in communities like Ottawa, Kitchener and Red Lake, Ont., have closed. In an August weekend, six hospitals in the province had to close services.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused immense burnout among staffthere were staff shortage issues.

The problem has been documented at least as far back as 2016, when an Auditor General’s report found that Ontario’s nurse-to-patient ratio was sometimes as high as one nurse for every nine patients. That was more than double established best practice of one nurse for every four patients, the report said.

So why did it take the crisis this summer to speed up the registration process?

Internationally educated nurses have the skills to help on the front lines of Ontario’s hospital staffing shortages, but until regulations change, many can’t help but argue Yamaan Alsumadi (Massimo Pinca/Reuters)

Registration can take up to five years, while others may never register at all. How many nurses have already given up, forced to change jobs because they couldn’t wait any longer?

This is unfair to immigrant health workers, especially when they have already had to prove their qualifications to immigrate; under Canada’s immigrant entry point system, their credentials qualified them to immigrate to Canada in the first place.

Ontario’s nursing shortage is preventable; the changes proposed by the College of Nurses of Ontario must occur as soon as possible.

The years it takes for an immigrant to be registered in Ontario are not required. They are humiliating for qualified immigrants to work and constitute an additional barrier that prevents these nurses from working on the front lines.

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