Manitoba to place some internationally trained nurses in hospitals before licensing completed

Six months after Manitoba struck a working group to get more internationally educated nurses working in the province, some key players say the province is making progress toward getting more of these nurses into a health-care system coping with urgent staffing shortages. 

Province wants internationally educated nurses working sooner, more students enrolled in nursing schools

A healthcare worker standing in a hospital hallway, back to the camera, tying up a yellow protective gown.
A nurse gowns up before attending to a patient. Shared Health says Manitoba is planning to get some internationally educated nurses working in the province with the help of some supervision. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Manitoba could soon have some internationally educated nurses working in the province before they're fully licensed. 

The province is moving to get licensed practical nurses, who require only "minimal education" to attain Manitoba's standards, working in health-care facilities under supervision, Shared Health said in a statement. 

These LPNs would finish their education on the side, through distance or continuing education, the spokesperson said.

Six months after Manitoba struck a working group to get more internationally educated nurses working in the province, some key players say the province is making progress toward getting more of these nurses into a health-care system coping with urgent staffing shortages. 

Shared Health said bringing prospective LPNs into hospital settings is the "most advanced" of their various initiatives. More information will be revealed once the details are finalized, the spokesperson said.

Discussions with the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba for a similar entry point are underway, he added.

Referring students to other licensing options

In another measure pursued by the working group, Manitoba is looking to direct applicants who don't meet the requirements of one nursing college to another avenue for licensing.

Under the current system, for example, someone who is unsuccessful in becoming a registered nurse in Manitoba would be pointed to additional schooling, rather than perhaps trying to become a licensed practical nurse instead.

That needs to change, says the RN college, which explains provincial rules don't allow applicant information to be shared between nursing colleges.

"If we are able to put into place something that would … allow for that effective handoff of an application, that's a good result for applicants," said Martin Lussier, the college's spokesperson.

It would give them "the ability to progress through and achieve registration at a level that they're most qualified for," he said.

A person's hands are shown in the foreground, adjusting a fluid-filled bag for a patient lying in a hospital bed.
Severe staffing shortages in Manitoba's hospitals have heightened the pressure for the province to speed up the licensing process for nurses who were trained in other countries. (

Manitoba's government has been pressured to bring in more nurses while reports of high vacancy rates, burnt-out nurses and continuous demands for mandatory overtime pile up.

The working group started meeting in January, the same month the provincial government claimed 90 internationally educated nurses could start working in a number of days.

The influx of new employees never came to pass, and the RN college said it had no idea where the province came up with these figures. 

Lussier said there would be an announcement in the "coming weeks and months" toward steps that better harmonize Manitoba's licensing practices with other provinces.

But he said the RN college is not looking to lower their standards, which some nurses have criticized for being too strict.

Lussier said there's no quick fix to getting more nurses into the system. It's a "challenge that is not resolved by removing requirements, because then there's a potential risk that we're licensing people to practise who may or may not be qualified for that role."

Opposition NDP MLA Malaya Marcelino said she appreciates Manitoba is making progress, but said they are not "actually addressing the bigger juggernaut issues that are causing these blockages" and pushing nurses to move to other provinces.

Too many fail test: Marcelino

Marcelino said applicants are tested too frequently on their English proficiency, and the clinical competency test is too often a roadblock.

"Nobody's saying 'let's do away with all these gap training standards,'" she said. "We're saying there's certain things that are certainly not working, and we have to remove those unfair barriers and make them fall in line with the other provinces."

Darlene Jackson said the Manitoba Nurses Union is on the committee trying to get more internationally trained nurses on the front lines.

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, suggests a working group to streamline the process for licensing internationally educated nurses would be able to accomplish more with some 'political intervention.' (Radio-Canada)

The union president didn't want to point fingers, but said some other members may need some "political intervention" to act for the benefit of the entire working group.

Jackson said the government could help by hiring an individual to help people navigate the complicated licensing process.

She said Premier Heather Stefanson seemed receptive to the idea when they spoke about it at the meeting of Canada's premiers this week in Victoria. 

In the long term, Manitoba's post-secondary institutions are doing what they can to bolster the nursing supply by enrolling more students. 

Despite recent horror stories of exhausted nurses, a growing number of people are trying to enter the profession. 

In the last few years, the University of Manitoba, the province's biggest trainer of future nurses, has seen 250 to 300 applicants every fall and winter.

Spike in nursing school applications

That changed last fall, when the university received more than 450 applications in a single intake. The university says 447 people wanted to enrol this September.

The university accepts 120 students in each intake session. 

"When students hear about the concerns related to the shortage of nurses in the province, many feel compelled to contribute and make a difference," said Netha Dyck, the dean of the U of M's college of nursing.

U of M expects to have no issue filling its additional 120 seats annually when it starts accepting students every spring.

The University of Manitoba's nursing school currently accepts 120 students in the fall and the winter of every year. Starting next May, the university will welcome 120 students in the spring as well. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

By then, the nursing school will deliver three terms of study a year, rather than two terms, to get students through the program in 28 months — one year ahead of the current schedule.

Funding for new seats comes from the Manitoba government, which pledged last year to create 400 new nursing seats over the next few years. 

More seats through the province

Other institutions are adding more nursing seats in time for the fall. 

Red River College Polytechnic is offering entry to 30 more students, for a total of 180 students every year. The college had more than 400 applications this time around.

Brandon University will go from funding 123 nursing seats annually to 139 seats starting this fall.

Assiniboine Community College is expecting to fill the 180 seats it has available beginning in September. Its Portage la Prairie campus, for example, is now offering 35 seats annually, rather than 25 seats every other year. 

St. Boniface University can enrol 15 more nursing students for a total of 58 new admissions annually. 

In northern Manitoba, University College of the North is roughly doubling the number of students taking its two-year diploma program. Its Thompson site can now accept 20 students a year. Swan River and Flin Flon will welcome 16 and 20 students, respectively, on an annual basis rather than every other year. 

UCN's dean of health, Vicki Zeran, said new provincial funding will support a program that gives prospective applicants the education they need to enter the nursing program. 


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at


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