VANCOUVER — British Columbia is looking to other countries to solve its nursing shortage “crisis,” starting with financial support to help internationally educated nurses get registered and licensed faster through a streamlined system.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the current confusing and expensive process has been a barrier for nurses wanting to work in a province with the fastest-growing population compared with other jurisdictions across the country.

“I think it’s fair to say that for internationally educated nurses, it is a challenging road,” Dix said. “It’s costly and it’s lengthy, and that’s at a time when we need nurses, and we need people to use the skills they have.”

Along with simplifying the application and assessment process for eligible nurses, the province will provide a maximum of $16,000 each to about 1,500 nurses this year to pay for everything from application fees to English language testing and education upgrading.

Bursaries will also help pay travel costs for those living in rural and remote areas so they can go to the Vancouver area for assessments.

A “nurse navigator” will help them go through the immigration, assessment, licensing and employment processes, while the province launches a domestic and international marketing campaign next month to attract more nurses.

Those trained outside Canada will now be required to take only one assessment instead of three for jobs as health-care assistants, licensed practical nurses or registered nurses, significantly slashing costs and time, Dix said.

The so-called triple-track process will enable people to work as licensed practical nurses while furthering their training as registered nurses, for example, he said.

However, Dix said a national competency assessment program is still likely to take about a year and the province will work to try and make that a better system.

Jennie Arceno, a registered nurse who trained in the Philippines and worked there for five years before moving to B.C. in 2016, said the registration process took three years to complete.

“No employer was willing to hire me as I didn’t have the Canadian experience,” she said, adding she applied to every health authority in the province before getting a job at a hospital in Campbell River.

“I hear some frustrations (about) the limited testing capacity and the wait-list that the internationally educated nurses endure just to get registration,” she said.

Aman Grewal, president of the B.C. Nurses Union, welcomed the changes as “one very positive step” toward filling thousands of nursing positions across the province.

Nurses trained in countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, Ireland and India bring valuable experience to Canada but wait too long to get work that is available, she said.

“Every time I hear about the impact the staffing crisis is having on working nurses here in B.C., I can’t help but think about the fact there are hundreds of trained nurses, professionals who are caught up in the licensing and assessment process,” Grewal said.

“Staffing levels for nurses across the province are already critical before the pandemic. We know that nurses currently working in our province are tired, they are burnt out and they need more support.”

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, called for a national, coordinated response to the nursing shortage across the country, with help for newcomers to pass their exams.

Ontario also introduced a fast-track program last year, including mentoring by registered nurses for those who were educated internationally, but the initiative did not go as planned due to a lack of nurses who could provide support, Silas said.

“The problem was you need nurses to do those mentoring programs, and they didn’t exist. There’s a severe shortage in Ontario, just like there is a severe shortage in B.C. Yes, we need nurses in the country, but we need to support them, and those support programs are not there.”

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2022.

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