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Regulator urged to register internationally trained nurses more quickly

Report from 2020 showed 14,633 internationally educated nurses were actively pursuing licence through the College of Nurses of Ontario
Sylvia Jones, Ontario Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, takes her oath at a swearing-in ceremony at Queen’s Park in Toronto on June 24, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — Ontario's health minister is giving the regulatory colleges for nurses and doctors two weeks to develop plans to more quickly register internationally educated professionals so they can practice in the province.

Sylvia Jones sent directives Thursday to the College of Nurses of Ontario and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario directing them to make every effort to register those nurses and doctors "as expeditiously as possible."

The minister also directed the nursing college to develop supports for the internationally trained nurses – for example to bring their skills to Ontario standards – to allow them to practice "in a timely way."

Jones has asked for reports from the colleges in two weeks on how they will accomplish that.

Hospitals have been under strain in the province, with some emergency rooms forced to close for hours or days at a time due to staff shortages.

Nursing groups, hospital executives, other health-care professionals and advocates have said that burnout after being on the COVID-19 front lines for more than two years and not being properly compensated have caused people to leave the profession in droves.

Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses' Association, said the system will benefit from more internationally trained nurses, but she wants to see the report from the college before assessing whether this particular directive will help.

As well, she said that the news of the directive alone does not amount to Premier Doug Ford doing everything in his power to address the staffing crisis, as he promised at a news conference Wednesday.

"This still goes hand in hand with Bill 124," Hoy said, referencing legislation that capped wage increases for public sector workers at one per cent for three years. 

"You're going to bring all these internationally trained nurses in, which yes is going to help because they're nurses, but at the end of the day, who is going to support them and orientate them and mentor them, because there's not enough nurses to do the work that we need in Ontario? So we need to get the retired nurses back and the only way you're going to get that is if you repeal Bill 124."

Ford indicated Wednesday that he would not be repealing the wage restraint legislation or increasing a $5,000 retention bonus for nurses. He also noted that the provisions of the legislation expire and won't apply to the next contract negotiations for nurses. 

A 2020 report from Ontario's fairness commissioner showed that 14,633 internationally educated nurses were actively pursuing a licence through the College of Nurses of Ontario. That same year, just over 2,000 international applicants became fully registered members.

The registered nurses' association says the past decade has seen a growing backlog of internationally educated applicants and estimates the queue is near 26,000.

The nurses' college has recently taken steps to speed up the process, including changes to language proficiency requirements and a partnership with the province to create more supervised practice opportunities, a spokeswoman has said.

It has registered a record number of nurses this year, including more international nurses than in previous years, with 4,728 registrations by the beginning of August. The college also says it's looking at ways to streamline the process.

In order to practice in Ontario, internationally educated nurses have to show that they have recent experience, pass exams, and demonstrate English or French proficiency.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2022.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press