Province offers funding to help internationally trained nurses get Manitoba certification

The Manitoba government has announced plans to speed up the process of getting internationally educated nurses into the workforce.

Plan offers up to $23,000 per nurse to cover costs associated with recertification

A close up of a person's arm, in a yellow sleeve with a blue latex glove, touching the chest of someone lying on a hospital bed.
Manitoba plans to increase the number of nursing education spaces by 50 per cent and offer up to $23,000 for internationally trained nurses to become certified to practise in the province. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Manitoba government has announced plans to speed up the process of getting internationally educated nurses into the workforce.

The plan calls for post-secondary institutions in Manitoba to increase the number of nursing education seats from more than 800 currently to around 1,200, over the next few years.

The province says it will offer up to $23,000 per person in financial and process supports for internationally educated nurses who want to become licensed to practise here.

Health Minister Heather Stefanson made the announcement on Wednesday, along with Economic Development and Jobs Minister Ralph Eichler and Wayne Ewasko, the minister for advanced education, skills and immigration.

The last 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic "have shown us just how critical it is that we support those who want to get into the nursing field by making sure they have access to the education they need to be able to do so," said Ewasko.

The funding will cover a variety of costs involved in the certification process, including clinical competence assessments and bridge training, living allowances, transportation and child care. 

English language skills training for those who need it will also be covered by funding, said Eichler.

The province will work with the six post-secondary institutions in Manitoba that offer nursing education to work out how to increase their seat capacity "in a sustainable way," said Stefanson.

Ewasko said the province doesn't know how many internationally trained nurses in Manitoba may be eligible to take advantage of the funding. Officials will work with community organizations and other stakeholders to identify potential candidates, he said.

New seats are expected to open up as early as the 2021-22 school year.

Prospective nurses can apply through the province's online portal.

Licensed practical nurses who benefited from the funding and increased education seats could start graduating as early as 2023, and registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses could start graduating by 2025, Ewasko said.

Won't solve immediate problems: union

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson welcomed the increase in education spaces and funding for internationally trained nurses, but said the announcements "offer only a partial and delayed solution" to the pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Exhausted nurses will have to continue until 2023 and beyond before those students are ready to shoulder some of the burden," she said in an email.

Recruitment and retention became major issues in the latest contract negotiations between the union and the Manitoba government. A strike was averted after the province agreed late last month to go to binding arbitration if bargaining is unsuccessful.

"We cannot emphasize enough the importance of supporting the experienced nurses we have, who we hope will still be here to mentor the coming new nurses," Jackson said.

She also pointed out that the announcement comes two years after Red River College cut 75 spots from its nursing program, which the union warned would negatively affect patient care.

"Retention is just as much a priority as recruitment," she said.

Nurses are currently working without a contract and with poor work-life balance, Jackson said.

"If the same conditions exist for these graduating nurses in two years' time, this cycle will only repeat itself."