Nurses were the arrowheads in the fight against COVID-19 in New Brunswick. They were (and are) the province’s first and most important line of defense. They were (and are) victims of the virus. The virus has taken a toll. By April 2022, nearly 700 nurses, many needing medical care, had been out of work at some point because of being infected with COVID-19.
Is it any wonder that nurses were (and are) in short supply?
In January 2022, the pandemic containment efforts became so severe that Premier Higgs announced a Level 3 lockdown, and issued a plea for Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) living in New Brunswick to join the effort to combat the virus and solve a nursing crisis. Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) are nurses with international training, education, and experience.
You might ask why the government needed to issue a plea for help to the nurses with international experience? Why did the government need to issue a plea in the first place? Why weren’t these nurses already working in the health care system?
It is simple.
Like in most Canadian provinces, nurses with international education face arbitrary exclusion from meaningful employment. These nurses are seen as lacking “Canadian experience,” and so regulators require them to prove their competency through cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive re-licensing processes.
Completing the National Nursing Assessment Service application is not enough, however. IENs must take part in entry practice competency tests and bridging programs and satisfy requirements in place by provincial regulatory bodies; a process that takes 12-24 months.
Although nurses can work while pursuing licensure, without Canadian experience, these nurses cannot find health care jobs. Indeed, for many, despite their education, training, and experience, comparable to Canadian standards, nurses struggle with resettlement upon arriving in Canada, and many are unable to surmount the barriers or practice their profession.
Indeed, even for those who are lucky, despite possessing training and years of on-the-job experience comparable to Canadian standards, they end up in medical sector jobs for which they are over-qualified and underpaid. Too many work entirely outside of nursing, or leave the province.
All this, despite a nursing crisis aggravated by COVID-19.
Premier Higgs’ appeal for IENs to join the fight against COVID-19 is a reminder of the bureaucratic barriers faced by foreign-trained nurses in this province.
It is a reminder that while Canada and the province of New Brunswick experience a shortage of nurses, we have a pool of qualified nurses in the province who cannot exercise their profession because of bureaucratic red tape.
Although some IENs were able to answer Premier Higgs’ call, and are now supporting the efforts against COVID-19. What will the fate of internationally educated nurses be as the pandemic enters its new phase?
On the 2021 International Nursing Day which coincided with the National Nursing Week, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough made public the provision of over $2.3 million to enhance swift integration of qualified nurses into the healthcare system.
The minister announced that Progress Career Planning Institute, Touch Stone Institute, and McMaster University would receive $795,098, $799,014, and $799,989 respectively out of the grant to ensure the smooth and swift transition and integration of IENs.
A year has gone by since this initiative was established—what is the status of IENs with regards to this program in NB?
As the province continues to grapple with a nursing shortage, how has the government harnessed the capacities of internationally educated nurses with the above-mentioned initiative to include IENs in New Brunswick’s health care system?
What will be the fate for internationally educated nurses after the pandemic? How far is the provincial government willing to go to help nurses enter the health care system?
As the province grapples with a nursing shortage, will the government begin to harness the capacities of immigrant nurses in the province? After all, it is far cheaper to support IENs, than train new nurses.
Or will the province fail to respond?
New Brunswickers must voice their support for internationally educated nurses, and the abundant experience and diverse knowledge they bring.
Faith Timipere Allison is a doctoral student at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of New Brunswick. She is also a researcher and writer working out of the Human Environments Workshop (HEW) funded by RAVEN.