An optimistic Ike Agbassi arrived in Canada in June 2003, an experienced medical laboratory technologist (MLT) ready to launch the next chapter in his career. He ultimately achieved that success; however, the path was winding and took longer than he expected.
There are important lessons from Ike’s journey that can help other internationally educated medical laboratory technologists (IEMLTs) to avoid unnecessary challenges. Ike had more than 12 years of experience as an MLT and prior to leaving his home city of Aba, Nigeria, he owned two labs. The medical laboratory business in Aba is dominated by private business; whereas, in Canada, most work for MLTs are within institutions.
He thought the transition to working as an MLT in Canada would be straightforward, but that turned out not to be the case. There was no information available to him while he was still in Nigeria that explained all that is required to work as an MLT in Canada.
Other challenges he faced was the realization that his education documents were not as detailed as what is required in Canada and having to coordinate the necessary documentation directly from Nigeria. It took a full year to coordinate and receive all the required documents which Ike referred to this as a “wasted year.”
Since 2003 when Ike immigrated, resources have been developed to help internationally trained individuals to assess their skills and learn the Canadian requirements to practice their profession. The Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) developed their Online Self-Assessment Tool for IEMLTs.
Ike says a tool such as this would have made a big difference for him, “Information is power and if I knew the specifics of what was required to have a career as an MLT in Canada, I would have been better able to handle what was a challenging transition and cut the total time it took to become certified from two years to one.”
When Ike arrived in Canada, his wife was eight months pregnant. During this period, Ike struggled to get his educational documents from Nigeria and found a range of temporary jobs to provide for his growing family. He worked in a bakery, was a personal support worker, and had a manual labour job in construction.
After his first day working in construction, Ike came home physically exhausted. The thought of having to going back to that physically demanding construction job the next morning at 5 a.m. upset his wife and she suggested that going back to the life they had in Aba would be a better option. Ike had his own successful medical laboratory business in Aba with two locations and his wife was a physician. There were various challenging points, such as when Ike was working a physically demanding job while trying to launch a career as an MLT. But throughout each, Ike said “I must keep going.”
Importance of Career Research and Training Programs
Ike researched training programs to help him launch his MLT career in Canada and found the bridge training program for IEMLT at Mohawk College. He attributes that program as a key factor in successfully becoming an MLT in Canada.
The program exposed him to the equipment that is used in laboratories in Canada, the workplace culture, and an opportunity to practice his skills in that new environment. Another key advantage to the program is that it enabled him to get Canadian experience when it is very competitive to find clinical practicums.
There are many important components to the program, such as the importance in Canada of adhering to privacy laws and the protection of patient information. Professional insurance is another important topic for MLTs in Canada. Ike is an Ontario Board member of the CSMLS and mentioned that membership with the CSMLS includes liability insurance. His role with the CSMLS evolved out of his volunteer participation on a national task force on IEMLTs and certification in Canada.
Another key to success is to become proficient in as many aspects of the job as possible. If your skill set is too specialized, your career opportunities will be more limited. Ike encourages other IEMLTS to do a lot of research about the training options, look into bridging programs, and understand the certification requirements for professional practice.
Determining where in Canada to find the best employment opportunities is another critical consideration. There are other sectors that an MLT’s skill set would also fit in well and offer additional employment opportunities. The bio sciences industry and the medical research sector are two examples of industries where an MLT’s precision and analytical skills could easily be applied.
Ike’s Keys to Success
Being able to remain open to change and being adaptable are keys to achieving success in Canada, as is maintaining a positive outlook and being able to present yourself well, demonstrate your professional competency and personal confidence, or as Ike puts it, “It’s all in the attitude.” His wife also looked for additional career options where her skills and expertise as a physician could offer her more employment opportunities and she transitioned into a research career.
Here are some other bridging programs for IEMLTs:
- Mohawk College partners with Diagnostic Services of Manitoba to offer a modified bridging program.
- There is also a new bridging program for IEMLTs in New Brunswick.
Another helpful research tool is the government of Canada’s Working in Canada tool, which provides information on employment trends, job requirements, and postings.