Desperate for healthcare workers, British Columbia announced Tuesday a series of initiatives, including bursaries of $16,000 each for 1,500 internationally educated nurses (IENs), to enter the province’s health system.

The $9 million in bursaries will go towards helping IENs get registered and licensed faster in B.C., the provincial ministry of health said in a statement 

The province’s most recent labour market outlook states that the province will need more than 26,000 nurses by 2031, states the BC Nurses Union (BCNU).

There were more than 5,000 vacant nurse positions in 2021 while 35 per cent of nurses in B.C. say they are considering leaving the profession, according to BCNU.

Fast-tracking the assessment process for nurses

It currently takes internationally educated nurses approximately two to six years to become a registered nurse in B.C. via a complicated, costly, and lengthy process.  It requires multiple assessments and document submissions to numerous organizations.

“Our government is committed to addressing the province’s demand for nurses. That’s why we’re launching this comprehensive suite of supports for internationally educated nurses to help them put their skills to use here in B.C.,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.

“Removing some financial barriers and streamlining the assessment process will facilitate pathways to employment in the province and ensure British Columbians have access to the health care they deserve with even more nurses and health-care assistants.”

In addition to the bursaries, the other supports to fast-track IENs include the consolidation of the provincially based assessment processes for IEN candidates and the creation of new nurse navigator positions to help IENs navigate the assessment and licensing process.

Health Match BC  (HMBC) is also launching a refreshed global marketing campaign and targeted website to promote B.C. as a desirable destination for IENs.

Rita Parikh, executive director of Nursing Community Assessment Service (NCAS) described the new initiatives in B.C. as a “game changer for internationally educated nurses.”

“The triple-track means NCAS can assess an IEN for competencies in three nursing professions at once, which boosts their chance of joining the workforce quickly in the role to which they are best suited right now.”

“Finally, we are moving ahead, and I have envisioned and hoped for this to happen for my fellow IENs,” said Jennie Arceno, now a registered nurse in B.C.

“The struggles that I went through fuelled my passion in advocating for my fellow IENs, and knowing it’s slowly happening is just surreal,” she said.

Attempts to aid Canada’s labour shortages

Alberta, facing a similar healthcare staffing crisis, recently announced a plan to fast-track accreditation for internationally trained nurses. It is also offering ICU nurses financial, educational and daycare incentives.

Last month, the Government of Canada said it will be investing in the Foreign Credential Recognition Program to help skilled newcomers gain Canadian work experience in the health sector.

“We know our health care sector is experiencing labour shortages, and that’s why we’re making sure that these qualified, skilled professionals can get to work in our hospitals and clinics as soon as possible,” said Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.

Fabian Dawson | New Canadian Media

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