Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

Current and future role of internationally educated nurses (IENs) in Canada

With an aging nursing workforce and a limited supply of new nursing graduates, Canada is facing a projected shortage of nurses in upcoming years. Forecasters estimate that by 2022, an additional 60,000 nurses will be required to meet the country's health-care needs. To address this shortage, it is very important for Canada to help internationally educated nurses (IENs) qualify to work here.

My name is Shailadi Gupta, and I am an IEN born in Chandigarh, India. I have always loved helping people, even as a child. Growing up, I knew I wanted to be in a nurturing profession like nursing. Both my parents are doctors and I was raised in a hospital environment, learning clinical skills since the age of seven. I also used to help my parents take care of my grandparents at home. Kindness was cultivated in my family and this inspiration spreads like an infection.

I earned my BScN degree at the National Institute of Nursing Education in Chandigarh, India. After practising as an RN for one year in the country of my birth, I knew I wanted to learn more about health care internationally and become a change agent in my profession. So, I decided to come to Canada to augment my nursing skills and my career.

I migrated to Toronto in 2009. At the time, I didn't know a lot of people in Canada. Like many first-generation immigrants, I struggled with the transition to the new country. I also found that, as an IEN, gaining the ability to use my nursing education and experience from India to work as a nurse in Canada was an uphill battle. The process of becoming an RN in my new country included taking several examinations, filling out lots of paperwork, and applying to the provincial nursing regulatory body. I had to spend countless hours to overcome these challenges and other cultural barriers. I worked very hard and passed my registration exam in 2010 on my first attempt, which was a huge achievement for me and a proud moment for my family.

I needed considerable support in transitioning into new socio-cultural and health-care environment. The major challenges I faced during this time were language and communication barriers and differences in clinical nursing practice. RNAO's best practice guidelines were the perfect tools to gain knowledge about the Canadian health-care system and nursing practice.

Today, I am a successful RN in Canada, and I also hold my RN license in the U.S. and India. However, I have found that many other IENs continue to struggle. Currently, only 7.2 per cent of the Canadian regulated nursing workforce is comprised of IENs, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). IENs bring diverse education and professional experience, but according to the Ontario office of the fairness commissioner, only 17.5 per cent of foreign-born or educated nurses in Ontario are working at or above their skill level -- compared to 64 per cent of Canadian born and educated nurses.

One of the biggest issues among IENs is a lack of awareness about transition programs, courses and other supports available to help them get registered in Canada. Currently, there are 35 career-bridging programs available for foreign-trained nurses, with 12 of these programs based in Ontario. IENs can learn more about this process and other requirements on the National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS) website and in NNAS applicant handbook.

Mentorship is another invaluable resource for IENs. A mentor can help guide them to their future careers and shape them along the way. A great place to start is to visit websites for nursing associations like RNAO.

The challenges I faced during my transition planted a seed for what I wanted to do: ensure that nurses from around the globe won't struggle as I did. I founded Kindshell Inc., a resource that provides nurses support at every step in their transition to Canada, from filling out forms to exam preparation and career counselling.

I am also a nursing professor at Seneca College and program coordinator for the college's IEN program. From my own experiences, and my work with IENs, I know that helping immigrant nurses is beneficial for both IENs and Canada. It is a win-win situation.