Listening to internationally educated nurses living in Ontario and eager to nurse

The following is an article contributed by a group of internationally educated nurses (IENs) who live in Canada and are anxious to work as RNs in Canada but who have endured years of an arduous and seemingly interminable process to meet the requirements. Scroll down to see RNAO’s letter to the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) on this issue.

Never giving up has always been this group’s mantra ever since we met. All of us, like every other immigrant, dreamed that someday, we can have a better life or provide a better future for our children and our families. We watch stories on television or read articles of what life is like at the other side of the world, how you have opportunities that your home country can’t offer and how to fulfill your aspirations for your family and for yourself. We all came here with hopes and dreams of becoming Registered Nurses (RNs) in Ontario.

We are a group of internationally educated nurses who came to Canada to work as caregivers. Becoming a caregiver for elderlies or children was the fastest way for us to enter the country so even if we are fully trained nurses in our home countries, we decided to grab the chance while telling ourselves that this is just temporary and that we will transition to becoming Canadian RNs soon.

We all know that getting licensed in Canada is a very arduous process. Not only that there are many requirements to meet – it is also quite expensive. Working as a caregiver is one of the hardest jobs there is. We wake up early in the morning to start tending to an elderly or child’s daily needs and at the same time help cleaning the house or run errands. Because we are tired working the whole day, we barely have time to take care of ourselves. We got stuck in this same loop for more than two years and yet we managed to find time to study and pass the registration examinations, the language proficiency exam, and meet most of the requirements asked by the College of Nurses (CNO). Finally, after working hard and with so many sleepless nights, we are now licensed RNs in Ontario. But wait, our story doesn’t end there.

Despite being licensed, we are not yet entitled to practice nursing in the province because we lack one requirement: we do not have a permanent resident status or an open work permit to legally authorize us to practice nursing as our work permits are tied specifically to work in the caregiving sector. Our dreams of becoming RNs and RPNs seemed to slip through our hands because we know how lengthy immigration processing times are. Albeit the situation, there was this small voice telling us that this is the last hurdle in the obstacle course and that we must not give up. So, we met via social media last year and we started letting everybody know that we are internationally educated nurses who are ready to practice but are unable because we lack permanent residency. We found comfort in each other; we are not alone in this journey. There are so many – indeed, thousands! – of internationally educated nurses who are going through the same ordeal.

This pandemic also intensified our desire to help. The country is now facing a nursing crisis. There are so many Canadian nurses who are exhausted and burned out but keep fighting and doing excellent work as they care for their patients. This sense of urgency fueled us to let people know that thousands of IENs are ready to help. Sometimes we feel so frustrated because we are just watching from the sidelines knowing that we can help. After making noise for months and after trying to find people who can help us, finally, we were able to let people know that we exist. We were able to find an organization willing to bet on us getting that much coveted unrestricted RN license. The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario spearheaded by their CEO, Dr. Doris Grinspun, has been so helpful. The moment we met her on social media, she didn’t waste time and connected us to people who can help our cause. She and her fellow advocates continuously let the world know that IENs are also essential.

All of us are qualified to work as Registered Nurses/ Registered Practical Nurses here in the province. Many of us have done additional courses to add to our toolkit of expertise. We are internationally educated nurses equipped not only with knowledge and skills – but also equipped with the desire to help in any way we can! Now that our voices are heard, we hold on to that glimmer of hope that someday we will be working hand in hand with fellow Canadian nurses, saving the world, one patient at a time.