English testing blocking nurses from coming to P.E.I., says newcomers group

·3 min read
The CIF's Angie Cormier says the benchmark for the college's English test is too high.   (CBC / Radio-Canada - image credit)
The CIF's Angie Cormier says the benchmark for the college's English test is too high. (CBC / Radio-Canada - image credit)

A group that helps French-speaking newcomers get settled on the Island says English-language testing is blocking qualified, highly educated nurses from coming to work on the Island.

La Coopérative d'intégration francophone de l'Île-du-Prince-Édouard, also known as the CIF, appeared before a legislative standing committee Tuesday.

The group updated MLAs on the barriers to recruiting and retaining Francophone workers.

"In other provinces their governments are sitting down with their professional regulatory body and saying 'Look, this has to change,'" said Angie Cormier, director with the CIF.

"This English-language exam, that's the problem, is blocking qualified people to come work here. It's that simple, and that complicated."

'Stopped everything in its tracks'

Cormier said the benchmark for the College of Registered Nurses of Prince Edward Island's English test is also too high. She said her group has worked for the past two years to get the college to change the test.

Submitted by Dr. Sheila Marchant-Short
Submitted by Dr. Sheila Marchant-Short

"You have to pass this English test that even you and I might have a problem passing, because the levels are so high," she said. "That has just stopped everything in its tracks."

The college said the English tests are needed.

Dr. Sheila Marchant-Short, CEO and registrar with the college, said it's a matter of patient safety. She said it would be difficult for nurses to give reports, receive reports and order tests if that nurse didn't understand English.

But Marchant-Short said colleges across Canada are reviewing the test.

"The college uses the same benchmark that the country uses. We don't believe it's a block to French nurses coming to Prince Edward Island," said Marchant-Short.

'Must be proficient in the language'

"Nurses who come to work in the health-care setting in Prince Edward Island must be proficient in the language of the health-care system, which is English."

But Cormier doesn't agree with concerns about safety.

Submitted by Angie Cormier
Submitted by Angie Cormier

"You tell me what is more unsafe right now: the pandemic and our shortage of resources, and the terrible problems we're having across Canada and P.E.I., or someone whose English is not at a doctorate level in their nursing practice?" said Cormier.

Both the CIF and the college have met, in hopes of coming up with a solution.

But COVID-19 has stalled those talks.

The college said the key for nurses is to begin their English-language testing early in the process of applying to come to P.E.I., so they can meet the requirements of the test.

There is training available to help nurses coming into the province to improve their English skills.

In a statement, the Department of Health said "from the department standpoint there is an English proficiency requirement in the act and it is up to particular professions to evaluate proficiency. There are a number of options set out in the act for evaluating proficiency."

Cormier said housing and transportation are other obstacles for all newcomers to P.E.I., including French-speaking newcomers.

"We cannot continue this growth in the province and we cannot continue to rely on human resources from outside until we build up our housing supply, affordable housing supply and we look more closely at our transportation issues," said Cormier.

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