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'We can help': Internationally trained nurses in Canada eager to work

Toronto -

The Omicron-driven surge in COVID-19 infections is worsening the shortage of nurses at Canadian hospitals. But there are thousands of internationally trained nurses who say they can ease the strain on the health-care system if they are given the chance to work.

"We can help. Like, come on guys. We're here. And we've been trained and been working for so many years. We just hope that they could consider us," Antonette Licuanan told CTV News.

Licuanan was a nurse in the Philippines for seven years before moving to Ontario, but she can't work as a nurse until she completes a lengthy, complex and expensive certification process.

"Every country, they have different standards. But at (the same time) … I know for a fact how hard it is for all the health care teams in the whole world," she said.

There's good news for some internationally trained nurses in Ontario. The province on Tuesday announced that 1,200 of these nurses will be matched with hospitals and long-term care homes to deal with immediate staffing shortages.

But some nurses, even after acquiring the appropriate certification, still can't practice due to immigration processing delays.

Karla Ducusin is a registered nurse in Ontario and previously worked as a nurse in the Philippines for four years. But even though she has the right credentials, she's still waiting on immigration officials to process her permanent residency application, which she submitted in October 2020.

"It's very, very frustrating, honestly. I see the news, I read in articles that nurses are burned out. Nurses are tired. They're exhausted from working overtime," she told CTV News. "We are here. We can help."

Ducusin had worked hard to get her nursing credentials in Ontario, a process that depleted all of her savings. But pandemic-related delays in immigration processing have continued to leave her in limbo.

"With immigration documents, I don't have it. I'm just left out. It feels like my life is put on hold. I'm just waiting and waiting and nothing's happening. It's very frustrating," she said.

The shortage of nurses was an issue prior to the pandemic. But the rise of the Omicron variant has led to a surge of infections among nurses, who would have to isolate and be unable to work. On top of that, hospitalizations and ICU admissions are rising, putting further strain on the health-care system.

"Things have the potential … to get even worse than they are right now and we're not in a good place already," said Morgan Hoffarth, president of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario.

The association says there are around 15,000 internationally educated nurses in the province who aren't practicing in their field, even though they could be.

"It's a big number, and it would make a huge difference to help our health care system," Hoffarth said.

"In the next four to six weeks. We need help. We need bodies. We need to fast track the registration and the work permits for internationally educated nurses."

It's a similar story on the West Coast. The B.C. Nurses' Union also wants to see the process of certification simplified for internationally educated nurses.

"There's a ton of nurses in B.C. that are internationally educated nurses and it is so expensive for them to get through the licensing hoops and hurdles," Danette Thomsen, the union's interim vice-president, told CTV News. "It's an untapped resource."

Even before obtaining all of the proper certification, Thomsen says nurses like Licuanan could be put to work right now doing non-critical tasks and take some of the load off other nurses.

"Our nurses are saying that their patient loads are two to two-and-a-half times heavier than normal. That it's impossible to give safe patient care," Thomsen said. Top Stories

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