Ontario nursing, physician colleges present plans to speed up registration for internationally trained workers

Ontario's nursing and physician colleges are proposing their plans requested two weeks ago by the health minister to get more internationally trained nurses and physicians working in the province's hospitals.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones recently directed colleges to come up with plans amidst worker shortage

Doctors operate on a patient.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, along with the College of Nurses of Ontario, are proposing plans to the Ministry of Health to get more internationally educated health care workers into Ontario hospitals faster. (StockLeb/Shutterstock)

Ontario's nursing and physician colleges are proposing plans Thursday to get more internationally trained nurses and doctors working in provincial hospitals.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones recently directed the College of Nurses of Ontario and the College of Physicians and Surgeons to develop these plans amid a health-care staffing shortage that has led to temporary emergency room closures.

The nurses' plan includes registering thousands of internationally educated nurses on a temporary basis, while the physicians' plan asks for more residency spots and pathways to licensing.

Jones also announced a plan Thursday to reduce surgical waiting lists, free up more hospital beds and add more health professionals such as nurses in order to stabilize the health system. One measure includes temporarily covering the exam, application and registration fees for internationally trained nurses.

Plan to expand nurse workforce

The nursing college said there are 5,970 active international applicants currently living in Ontario.

It says the college could make a regulation change — if the minister supports it — that would allow internationally trained nurses to be temporarily registered while they go through the process of full registration, such as completing education and an exam.

The college proposes to allow applicants who have completed nursing education approved in another jurisdiction to temporarily register, and to only revoke a temporary certificate after two failed exam attempts, instead of the one attempt they currently are allowed.

Temporarily registered nurses have to be monitored by a registered practical nurse, a registered nurse or a nurse practitioner.

The college says the changes will allow internationally trained nursing applicants with education gaps "to register and practice as a nurse under terms, conditions and limitations for public protection while they complete remaining requirements."

"It also ensures that [applicants] can maintain registration requirements they already met, such as evidence of recent nursing practice."

The college also proposes to make it easier for about 5,300 non-practising nurses living in Ontario to return to the workforce if they want to. Current rules say a nurse must have practised within the last three years to be reinstated, but the college says that regulation could be changed.

In addition to proposing new steps the college itself could take to register more internationally educated nurses, it is also calling on the government to do more to provide those nurses with necessary education.

"Since early 2022, CNO has been raising awareness among system partners, including the Ministry of Health, that the unavailability of appropriate education for IEN applicants is a key barrier to their timely registration," the college's council president wrote to the minister, along with the acting executive director and CEO.

"This remains the case today."

Proposed plans for internationally trained doctors

Jones had also asked the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to suggest ways to speed up registrations of internationally educated physicians.

The college responded by pushing for a practice ready assessment program for international physicians in Ontario, noting that seven other provinces currently have one. The programs give the physicians a path to licensing by having them work under supervision and be evaluated over 12 weeks.

The college also asked the government to increase the number of residency positions available to internationally educated physicians.

A nurse looks over her shoulder. She's standing in a hospital and wearing COVID-19 protective gear.
Hospitals across Ontario have been short-staffed, leading to emergency rooms closing for hours or days at a time. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Since only a "small number" of residency positions are accessible to internationally trained physicians, the college says the province is "essentially limiting" the opportunity to grow the base of future doctors and support internationally educated physicians.

"Taking immediate action now could create new opportunities for the summer of 2023, quickly injecting qualified internationally educated physicians into the system as trainees and creating a clear path to independent practice for this group."

The college is also proposing a new temporary, three-month registration in Ontario for physicians licensed in other provinces or territories.

It also suggests making it easier for retired physicians to return to practice and reminding hospitals they can hire international medical graduates awaiting registration under a 30-day "short duration" licence when doctors are needed on an urgent basis.

The government did not immediately respond to queries about whether they would accept the proposals from the colleges.

With files from CBC News