International Nurses Day is celebrated annually on May 12th in Canada. The day is dedicated to recognizing the efforts and contributions of nurses toward ensuring that Canadians receive top-notch healthcare. However, the healthcare system has been experiencing a shortage of nurses for several years, which has become more pronounced in recent times with the COVID-19 pandemic and the aging population. Recent job vacancy data shows that the healthcare and social assistance sector recorded 162,100 vacant positions in January 2023, the highest number on record. To bridge this gap and overcome the labour shortage, the federal government and provinces are implementing measures to attract and retain internationally educated nurses (IENs).
The Shortage of Nurses in Canada
The shortage of nurses has been a critical issue in the Canadian healthcare system even before the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2022 report by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) showed that the shortage of nurses led to poor mental health, burnout, and mass resignations among healthcare professionals. Budget 2023, released on March 28th, cites a poll that revealed that four out of ten nurses are considering leaving their jobs, mainly due to high workloads and poor staffing levels, while one in two younger, early-career nurses reports symptoms of clinical burnout.
Immigration as a Solution to the Nursing Shortage
The federal government and provinces have recognized the importance of immigration and fast-tracking credential recognition for IENs to overcome the labour shortage. Many IENs face challenges getting the necessary accreditation to practice in Canada. To remove these barriers, the provinces are working to attract more nurses from abroad and provide the necessary support for their successful integration into the healthcare system.
Provinces’ Efforts to Invite Nurses
Healthcare is a provincial responsibility, and the provinces are implementing various measures to attract and retain more nurses. Here are some of the incentives offered by Canada’s provinces to attract more IENs:
Alberta has invested more than $15 million to train and support IENs. The funding includes $7.8 million for students to access up to $30,000 in bursaries, while the remaining funds will create 600 new seats for nurse bridging programs in three Alberta universities. Alberta has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Philippines to streamline the process of recruiting Filipino registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.
British Columbia has introduced a new nurse-to-patient ratio that depends on the care area, ensuring that patients get the required care, and nurses are not overwhelmed. The province is now covering application and assessment fees for IENs, which can cost more than $3,700. British Columbia will also provide up to $4,000 per person to cover assessments and eligible travel costs for nurses returning to practice after an absence.
Manitoba launched its Health Human Resource Action Plan in November 2022 and made a commitment to add 2,000 healthcare providers. The government has invested $200 million to retain, train, and recruit healthcare staff across the province and eliminate mandated overtime.
On March 20th, the Premier of Nova Scotia, Tim Houston, announced that nurses in the province would be receiving a $10,000 recognition bonus. Those who sign a two-year return of service agreement by the end of March 2024 will receive an additional $10,000 the following year. The province has also made 154 conditional offers for healthcare workers, including nurses, on international recruitment trips to Kenya, Singapore, the UAE, and the UK.
Last year in October, the Ministry of Health Ontario, the College of Nurses in Ontario, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario made the following changes:
- Permitting foreign-educated nurses to apply for a temporary class and start working while working towards full registration.
- Easing the norms for non-practicing or retired nurses to resume work by offering more flexibility.
- A new registration class has been introduced for physicians from other provinces and territories, allowing them to work independently for up to 90 days in Ontario. This change aims to make it easier for physicians to work in the province temporarily.
Additionally, with effect from January, more changes came into effect. Below mentioned are the new rules:
- Health regulatory colleges must now adhere to specified time limits to make registration decisions.
- Health regulatory colleges cannot demand Canadian work experience for registration, with certain exceptions, such as accepting equivalent international experience.
- Language proficiency tests approved under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) will now be accepted to prevent redundant language testing for immigrants to Canada.