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Comment: These nurses are eager to work, but a dysfunctional bureaucracy is blocking them

A commentary by a Comox resident who is waiting to start work as a nurse.
A medical clinic examining room. TIMES COLONIST

As a Canadian and internationally educated nurse, I’ve been following the news on the health-care crisis in our country with great interest and worry. There are simply not enough professionals to meet demand, especially with a rapidly aging population.

Surgeries are backed up, wards are closed due to staffing shortages, and nurses are stretched thin and burning out in droves.

This is worryingly similar to what has been happening in my second home country of Finland — in fact, there is a massive strike going on right now.

Coming to British Columbia as a young nurse at the start of my career, I would like to share my own experience.

I’m a Canadian citizen of Indigenous heritage, educated in Finland and a fully licensed registered nurse, and have worked in specialized care in a central hospital for the past two years. I am bilingual and half my family lives in Canada.

Some years ago, I decided to realize my dream of moving here, too. You’d think, in the current situation, it wouldn’t be a big deal to transfer my credentials and get employed as an RN here.

And no doubt, the work is there — so many exciting placements! But I think very few people realize just how difficult it has been made for a nurse to come practise their profession here.

I tend to over-prepare for everything, but despite all my diligent research and an early start, it has shocked me, too.

I needed to have my credentials assessed, apply to the provincial regulatory body (B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives, BCCNM) for registration, possibly doing a three-part assessment and coursework to meet their requirements, and only then be eligible to write the NCLEX exam, which every Canadian nurse does after graduating.

The problem with this convoluted system is the timeline and the cost.

After the assessment organization received all needed documents (which took months since they have no electronic system, everything must be mailed in by different Finnish authorities, and processing is slow) my case sat in the water for a further seven months before anyone addressed it. They adamantly stated throughout that the aim of completion is 12 weeks.

Getting other information was like pulling teeth, half the time I was sure a robot was answering my emails. I submitted my application November 2020 and, with all the delays, was done in January 2022.

I paid $650 US for this service, plus hundreds of dollars to prepare and have documents mailed, and postponed coming to Canada twice. Next, I applied to BCCNM, for a fee of $600 and was told to do a $400-plus English test.

Excuse me? Though I grew up abroad, I’m still a Canadian, did an international nursing degree for this very purpose and speak English as my mother tongue. It carried no weight. I aced the exam, obviously.

After all this work to prove I’m fit to work in Canada, I had hopes of getting to do the NCLEX exam directly. After all, there is a nursing shortage to be addressed. But no. I’m being referred to have an assessment by yet another organization, which I’m told every international applicant, regardless of background, must do.

I’m paying $3,000 for this, but their schedule is so backed up I’ll only be able to complete it at the earliest at the end of this summer. If knowledge gaps are identified, I’ll need to do coursework and then finally be allowed to practise on a provisional licence until I pass the NCLEX.

Another choice is doing a self-funded two-year re-entry to practice program, which is completely unreasonable. Even just coursework will be expensive, the NCLEX itself a further $360.

If I described all the roadblocks, I’d still be writing next week. Now I’ve moved to Canada, as life goes on and other circumstances dictated it. I’m still waiting for that referral to go through.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d still be stuck dealing with this. I’m tired, frustrated and half ready to give up.

I think I’m a good applicant, but feel underappreciated and unwelcome — an exciting opportunity turning increasingly sour. I’ve left the job I love to pursue nursing in Canada, and the longer I spend out of practice, the more my skills rust.

The saddest thing is, I genuinely just want to help and do something that matters. Standards for nursing in Canada must be kept high, and a vetting process is necessary.

But it doesn’t function at an adequate level, communication is incredibly poor, and parts seem entirely pointless. An inefficient system shouldn’t be an obstacle for professionals wanting to work here.

I’m lucky, I have savings and a place to stay, and don’t need to worry about immigration status or work visas. But other applicants do have those worries.

A recent Vancouver Sun article stated that international nurses are waiting seven years to get accredited in B.C., which doesn’t surprise me. But who can afford to wait that long? What fully competent professional would bother, when other places are rolling out incentives?

It’s frustrating, reading news of the nurse shortage while struggling to leap through these pointlessly difficult hoops.

If anyone’s wondering where to get more nurses, we’re here. Just waiting.

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