Doctors, nurses don't have to pass French test to work in Quebec during pandemic

Quebec’s language watchdog, the OQLF, has suspended the requirement indefinitely for all of the province’s 46 professional orders as of March 16. That list includes everything from nurses and physicians to psychologists and midwives.

OQLF suspends exams as province grapples with shortage of health-care workers

The OQLF's decision to suspend testing is just one of many steps the government has taken in its effort to attract more health-care workers to the job. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Doctors and nurses looking to join Quebec's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic are not required to pass a French-language exam for the time being.

Quebec's language watchdog, the OQLF, has suspended the requirement indefinitely for all of the province's 46 professional orders as of March 16, CBC News has learned. That list includes everything from nurses and physicians to psychologists and midwives. 

Engineers, chiropractors, geologists and land surveyors are also on the list of professions governed by a professional orders.

To be admitted, each order has a range of requirements exclusive to the specialty, in addition to the ability to speak and write in French.

For example, Quebec's order of physical therapists says clearly on its website that it cannot issue a licence without proof that a candidate's knowledge of French complies with the OQLF's requirements. Similar conditions are outlined on the websites of Quebec's orders of dentists and engineers.

OQLF spokesperson Chantal Bouchard told CBC News the decision to temporarily lift that testing requirement is due to the "COVID-19 pandemic and to comply with the preventive measures put in place by the government."

The principal aim is to allow professionals in the health network to continue to provide care to the population amid a public health emergency, she said.

"These measures also allow members of other professional orders, who may work in essential services, to continue working without constraints until the OQLF examinations are offered again," Bouchard said.

Quebec's order of nurses put out a notice earlier this week, letting its members know they don't have to stress over passing a French-language exam to join or renew their membership.

Premier pleads for doctors, nurses to come help

The OQLF's decision is just one of many steps the government has taken as it strives to attract more health-care workers to the job.

Early on, the province boosted the workers' pay — offering public-sector workers temporary pay increases of eight per cent. Those in private institutions, many of whom make little more than minimum wage, are getting an additional $4 per hour.

And since April 15, the nurses' order has had authorization to allow some nursing students near graduation to help prevent and control the spread of COVID-19. Retired workers under 70 have also been allowed back on the job if they have worked in the last five years.

The Quebec premier says thousands of qualified workers are needed as the province works to stop the COVID-19 outbreak. 0:39

Despite these incentives, Quebec Premier François Legault was still painting a grim picture during his daily public briefing on Thursday.

He said there are 9,500 workers absent from the province's health-care network and the number of COVID-19 cases is continuing to rise.

Among those absent, 4,000 workers are infected with COVID-19. He issued a plea to those who have finished their 14-day quarantine to come back to work and vowed to outfit them with proper personal protective equipment.

"We need you," Legault said on Thursday. "We are not taking any risks with your safety."

And in a tweet later that day, he said, "our priority remains to find staff for the entire health network."

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