B.C. to fast track approval for internationally trained nurses

The province hopes eliminating cost and red tape will attract 1,500 new nurses and help ease B.C.’s critical nursing shortage

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B.C. will spend $12 million to fast-track internationally trained nurses through the cumbersome accreditation process in an effort to ease the province’s critical shortage of nurses.

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It’s a welcome and long-overdue move for nurses like Gabriela Kosonen, a Canadian citizen who studied as a registered nurse in Finland. The 27-year-old has spent 18 months and thousands of dollars to have her qualifications recognized here and she’s still waiting.

“It’s a pretty gruelling process to wait around for this,” said Kosonen, who is living with family in Comox. “Seeing as there’s such a great demand (for nurses), it seems a bit of a waste to use my skills on being a medical office assistant.”

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday morning, Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged that the accreditation process for internationally educated nurses “is complex, it’s costly, and it’s lengthy.”

That, Dix said, “is no longer acceptable” given B.C.’s nursing shortage.

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“We need more nurses now. We need more nurses in five years,” Dix said. “Internationally educated nurses play a vital role in addressing the current demand we’re seeing in our health-care system.”

Effective in May, international nurses who want to work in B.C. will face a streamlined process to assess nursing credentials from international schools, Dix said. The goal is to shave months off a process that typically takes 18 months to two years, he said.

Nurses trained abroad will also be eligible for $9 million in bursaries — up to $16,000 each — to ease the heavy financial burden and get help navigating the often confusing regulatory and licensing process.

Right now, the assessment and registration process costs nurses at least $4,000 or tens of thousands of dollars if they must upgrade their education. As of May, nurses will be tested for several positions at once, which reduces their fees and, the province says, doubles the number of nurses assessed each day. The province is spending $1.2 million to speed up this process.

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Internationally trained nurses and doctors have long been decrying the bureaucratic barriers that hamper their ability to practise in B.C.

However, no changes were made to the accreditation process for doctors who trained abroad. When asked why, Dix said making the necessary changes for doctors is more complex but it’s something the province is working on.

B.C. Nurses’ Union president Aman Grewal, who has previously slammed the province for not having a plan to address the dire shortage of nursing staff in intensive care units, said the changes will have far-reaching significance for nurses trained outside Canada.

The union has spent years pressing for changes to the assessment process, said Grewal, who has heard from nurses who have abandoned their dreams of practising in B.C. because the process is too costly, too long or unnecessarily confusing.

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While Grewal said the measures are a step in the right direction and will have some impact on the nursing shortage, more needs to be done to ensure B.C. hires an additional 26,000 nurses by 2031.

Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association lauded the reforms, saying hiring qualified internationally trained nurses can help solve the health care system’s human resources crisis.

B.C.’s move follows Ontario, which recently announced a similar plan to fast-track accreditation for internationally trained nurses.

B.C. will spend $2 million on a recruitment scheme, run by Health Match B.C., aimed at attracting international nurses. Health Match B.C. will hire nurse navigators to help applicants with the process.

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The bursaries will be available to all eligible internationally trained nurses wanting to practise in B.C., with an initial focus on those already living in the province. Dix said the bursaries will help approximately 1,500 internationally trained nurses by the end of the year.

The new process will allow nurses to work in health-care roles such as care aides while they’re waiting for their qualifications to be recognized.

Every year, between 350 and 400 internationally trained nurses apply to the B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives to have their nursing credentials assessed in B.C., which costs $600. The college refers 80 per cent of those applications to the Nursing Community Assessment Service, B.C.’s body for assessing international nurses.

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International nurses must also go through a parallel assessment through the National Nursing Assessment Services which costs another $650. Nurses who study in a country where English is a second language must also pass a $400 English proficiency test.

Kosonen, for example, was gobsmacked she had to take the $400 English test despite being a Canadian citizen and fluent English speaker. She was told it’s required because she studied in Finland where English is a second language.

Internationally trained doctors have also been fighting against what they say is a discriminatory system that blocks them from competing with Canadian trained physicians for a limited number of residency positions. Doctors can only be licensed in Canada after passing the requisite exams and completing a residency of two or more years.

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Two internationally trained doctors, Dr. Navid Pooyan and Dr. Vahid Nilforushan, have filed complaints before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. The Society of Canadians Studying Abroad filed a lawsuit in 2018 on behalf of Canadian medical students who studied abroad but that case has yet to be heard by the B.C. Supreme Court.

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