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New Toronto program helps internationally educated nurses get Ontario licenses

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A new program created by Sunnybrook Health Sciences is helping the hospital find staff who were trained abroad to get their nursing licenses to work in Ontario.

The Career Pathways program falls in line with Health Minister Christine Elliott’s Jan. 11 announcement that the province will be deploying internationally trained professionals, under the supervision of licensed nurses, to work in long-term care and other settings that have been suffering from staff shortages, especially during the pandemic.

Sunnybrook has been looking within its own ranks to see who fits the criteria and wants to be fast tracked in getting the necessary hours of practical work to become a Registered Nurse.

“We were able to identify 50 individuals that were nurses in their home countries and that were working in a different capacity with us at Sunnybrook,” Chief Nursing and Health Professions Executive Ru Taggar said.

Taggar says, in the past, many nurses who were trained in other countries would come to Canada hoping to work as nurses here, but would have to work as personal support workers, companions or other non-nursing staff until they could find a way to build up their practical skills hours.

“What the ministry is doing is giving us targeted funding to actually put them in a clinical setting,” Taggar said.

RN Champ Noval is working with the Sunnybrook program as a mentor and he can identify with the challenges of internationally trained candidates. He himself was a nursing professor in the Philippines and a researcher with the World Health Organization before coming to Canada. Despite his years of experience, he had to retrain to get his Ontario license.

“Some of them have even thought about moving to the States, because it’s easier to get your license there,” Noval said. But he says the internationally educated nurses or IENs he’s been mentoring have been in Canada for at least a couple of years already and consider it home.

With the shortage of nurses, he says their skills are badly needed in Canada.

“With the crisis that we face right now ... It’s really bad.”

Chandra Kafle works as a nurse in Sunnybrook’s cardiac intensive care and she says her training back in Nepal was in some ways even more rigorous than here.

“The clinical hours are higher there and you get to do one on one patient care, right from your first year," Kafle said.

But she says there are many things IENs need to learn about working in Ontario.

She laughs about how she had to train her ear to understand the Canadian accent when first dealing with patients. Other practices such as patient confidentiality may differ greatly from country to country.

Still, she is happy to see IENs get the opportunity to follow the nursing career they originally intended to pursue.

“Especially in this situation right now where nurse to patient ratios are higher than they used to be, it’s a great help.”

Taggar adds that by giving IENs clinical experience at Sunnybrook, they hope to attract nurses to stay at the hospital and show them the opportunities for advancement that could lie ahead.

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