Ike Agbassi was an experienced medical laboratory technologist (MLT) when he arrived in Canada in June 2003. He had more than 12 years of experience and had owned two labs prior to leaving Aba, Nigeria.
Now, he was starting over in a new country and he was ready to launch the next chapter of his career. But he soon realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d hoped.
As an internationally educated medical laboratory technologists (IEMLTs), Ike faced several challenges on his path to professional fulfillment in Canada.
Ike thought that the transition to working as an MLT in Canada would be straightforward, but that wasn’t the case. For example, Aba’s MLT indistry is dominated by private business; however, in Canada, most MLTs work for institutions. There was no information available to him in Nigeria that explained how to find work as an MLT in Canada.
Ike also realized that his academic documents were not did not provide the details necessary to withstand credential verification in Canada. Therefore, he had to have new documentation sent directly from Nigeria. It took a full year to coordinate and receive all the required documents. Ike referred to this as a “wasted year.”
There are a lot of resources available today to help internationally trained individuals learn how to continue their careers in Canada. For example, the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) now has an Online Self-Assessment Tool for IEMLTs.
Ike says that this tool would have made a big difference for him. “Information is power,” he says. “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.”
During this period, Ike found a range of temporary jobs to provide for his 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 him going back to that physically demanding construction job at 5 a.m. upset his wife, and she suggested going back to Nigeria. In Aba, his wife had been a physician; in Canada, she had arrived eight months pregnant and was now raising their newborn.
But throughout each difficult phase, 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 teaching Canadian privacy laws and patient rights. Professional insurance is another important topic for MLTs in Canada.
Ike is now serving on the board of Ontario’s 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 for IEMLTs.
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. So is maintaining a positive outlook and being able to present yourself well, while demonstrating your professional competency. 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. She has since transitioned into a research career.
Here are some other useful resources:
- There is a new bridging program for IEMLTs in New Brunswick.
- The Working in Canada tool provides information on employment trends, job requirements, and postings.
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