Global Talent Bridge Partner Blog

News on practice and policy affecting internationally trained immigrants and refugees

COVID-19 Response: An Update on Addressing the Underutilized Skills of Canada’s Internationally Educated Health Professionals

Wednesday April 28, 2021 | by WES Global Talent Bridge

While the pandemic is highlighting challenges in Canada’s health and long-term care (LTC) systems, it is also shining light on the thousands of internationally educated health professionals (IEHPs) who are licensed to practice in other countries but are unable to fully contribute their skills, education, and experience in Canada.  

Since last spring, WES has been working with many partners to raise awareness of the deep disconnect between the underutilization of IEHP talent and the needs of Canada’s health and LTC systems. WES has been convening with IEHPs and system stakeholders to develop and advocate for structural and policy changes that can create more access for immigrants and refugees who hold international health credentials.  

Raising Awareness and Making Connections 

In the fall of 2020, WES coordinated sessions at events organized by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), Pathways to Prosperity (P2P), and Metropolis to foster connections between stakeholders and to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities facing IEHPs amid the pandemic. WES has also carried out national scan of supports for IEHPs, identifying over 150 associations, program initiatives, and researchers across CanadaThis living document provides a fuller picture of the individuals and organizations engaged in supporting IEHPs and can be an important resource for future collaboration. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the scan, please contact Caroline Ewen. 

Internationally Educated Health Professionals and Long-Term Care 

Long-standing human resources issues in the LTC sector have significantly worsened over the past year, leading to severe staffing shortages and contributing to outbreaks and deaths. As Statistics Canada research has shown, a significant portion of the nurses’ aides, orderlies, and care assistants who provide care in the sector are immigrants (many of them are racialized women) with nursing backgrounds. In light of the calls for systemic reform of the sector in Ontario, WES has focused its efforts on convening stakeholders to develop solutions that would both support the sector and create career pathways for internationally educated nurses (IENs)In October 2020WES submitted recommendations to Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission, including a proposal to establish coordinated workplace-supported career pathways for IENs seeking to re-enter professional practice in Ontario. WES has been working with leaders of nursing bridging programs in Ontario’s colleges and universities and with LTC sector employers to develop and put forward viable model to implement this idea  

Ideas promoted by WES and others in the IEHP and immigrantserving sectors are clearly reflected in the province’s recent commitments to focus on IEHP pathways as a key part of its new LTC Staffing StrategyIn November, the Ontario government’s 2020 Budget committed to “moving quickly to create new, accelerated and expanded qualification pathways to increase the supply of qualified health professionals. This includes accelerating the qualification of foreign-trained professionals and creating career advancement opportunities.” A month later, the government released the Ontario Long-Term Care Staffing Plan which pledges to create new pathways to increase the supply of workers in long-term care with an immediate focus on removing barriers to employment for internationally educated professionals and supporting career laddering in the sector. 

Most recently, in advance of the March 2021 Provincial Budget, the government of Ontario created the Staffing Supply Accelerator Group which includes key ministries, LTC employer organizations, nursing and personal support worker professional associationsthe provincial nursing regulatory body, and Ontario’s colleges and universitiesPart of the group’s mandate is “removing barriers to enable more internationally-trained professionals to become qualified to practice in Ontario.”  

Internationally Trained Physicians 

In 2020, WES began convening groups that represent Ontario’s internationally trained doctors, and that are engaged in initiatives to address the systemic challenges these doctors face in obtaining licensure as physicians or in pursuing other careers that leverage their skills. These groups are moving to formalize a coalition that will advocate collectively on behalf of its member organizations. 

A delegation from this coalition recently met with the Fairness Commissioner of Ontario to discuss and advocate for the establishment of the Medical Council of Canada’s Practice Ready Assessment (PRA) program in Ontario. The PRA program, currently available in seven provinces across Canada, is a route to licensure for internationally trained physicians who have completed their residency training and practiced independently abroad. The program offers a 12-week field assessment to determine if candidates possess the clinical skills and knowledge to provide quality patient care in Canada. The coalition will continue to advocate for a PRA program in Ontario, as well as for other solutions to facilitate the contribution of Canada’s internationally trained doctors.  

Amplifying Voices and Furthering Collaboration  

WES is continuing to build its collaboration with other organizations and individuals who are working to ensure that immigrant health professionals can pursue their professional goals and fully contribute to Canada’s health care systemIf you are an IEHP-led network or an organization that provides supports to internationally educated nurses, doctors, or other IEHPs, you can connect with WES Global Talent Bridge.