Internationally educated nurses make their way to northern Ontario
Health facilities say nurses with diplomas obtained outside Canada help alleviate staff shortages
The College of Nurses of Ontario doubled its record for the number of newly registered internationally trained nurses last year.
Out of the 12,385 new nurses admitted to the health system, nearly half obtained their diplomas outside of Canada.
And some of these newly registered nurses are deciding to move to northern Ontario for work, where nursing staff shortages are pronounced.
But challenges to reintegrating the profession remain.
"You really need to work to get that license"
Fatima Pacheco considers herself lucky to have obtained her registered practical nurse license shortly after arriving in Sault Ste. Marie in 2022.
But she had started the paperwork a year before that, while she was working as a registered nurse in Saudi Arabia.
She says many of her colleagues didn't get that head start.
"There are a lot of healthcare workers I know that are really deserving of being recognized as nurses. It's just that the process is really long," she said.
Pacheco herself is currently entangled in a long process to obtain her registered nurse license, which matches her previous experience but takes more effort to obtain.
She's considering passing certifications in the United States to speed up her process in Ontario.
Pacheco settled in northern Ontario because of an immigration program facilitating her access to permanent residency.
And she doesn't see herself leaving any time soon. "I bought a house here. I'm raising my family, and I'm really happy with my work," said Pacheco.
Some experience bias in the workplace
Haby Conde says she has "fallen in love with northern Ontario."
Since moving here, she's learned to fish, to hunt, and to enjoy the outdoors. She says the environment here is very different from her native France.
She says obtaining equivalency in Ontario was easier for her than it is for other internationally trained colleagues as she landed in Quebec first, a province that has a bilateral agreement with her home country.
"I have had really positive professional experiences since arriving in Sudbury," she said.
But she adds that her experience working as a travel nurse in neighbouring rural communities was a bit more challenging at times.
Conde feels like she's sometimes had to prove her credentials when working in those areas."I don't think people mean to be condescending," she said. "Sometimes, they just haven't often met people from other countries."
In her experience, many of the nurses who work in remote and rural northern Ontario communities come from abroad.
"Few Caucasian girls are going to leave Toronto to go work in the North," said Conde. "But you'll see Nigerian, Kenyan, Ugandan nurses going to Sioux Lookout, to Kapuskasing, to Sault Ste. Marie."
She thinks it's important that any biases against internationally trained nurses be addressed by host communities.
Discovering new work challenges
Annie Mathews has also noticed there is an increasing number of internationally trained nurses in the North.
Mathews says that when she started working as an emergency nurse 35 years ago, she was the only internationally trained nurse in the room.
Today, she has many colleagues who come from her home country.
After working for decades in the south, she recently decided to move to northwestern Ontario, to work with Indigenous communities.
"It's something I really wanted to do, as an immigrant, working with Indigenous peoples, because this country belongs to them and I'm grateful to them for letting me stay," said Mathews.
Alleviating staff shortages
Julie Trpkovski, Chief Nursing Executive at Health Science North in Sudbury, says that "recruiting internationally trained nurses is an important part of addressing human resource shortages at HSN."
Four internationally trained nurses will be participating in a workplace experience program at the facility throughout the summer.
Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, says there are currently 6000 internationally trained nurses waiting on the sidelines in the province.
Grinspun herself is an internationally educated nurse, having obtained her diplomas in Chile before working in Israel and finally moving to Canada.
"Internationally educated nurses are not lesser nurses than educated here," she said.
"They're equally qualified and good and in many instances because they made the effort, like me, to come to this country.
She says if internationally educated nurses are to decide to move to more rural areas of Northern Ontario, there needs to be guarantees of full-time employment.
"That's really the winning strategy," said Grinspun.