'About to live my dream': Refugee health-care worker on track to become a registered nurse

Agnes Lomoro is one of the internationally educated health-care professionals who is part of a new pilot bridging program for registered nurses in Nova Scotia. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC - image credit)
Agnes Lomoro is one of the internationally educated health-care professionals who is part of a new pilot bridging program for registered nurses in Nova Scotia. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC - image credit)

One of the first health-care workers to arrive in Nova Scotia after being recruited from a refugee camp in Kenya is now on her way to becoming a registered nurse.

Agnes Lomoro was initially hired as a continuing care assistant (CCA) to a long-term care facility in New Glasgow in 2021 but has qualified for a new pilot program to gain her credentials as a nurse.

With a nursing degree from Kenya, the 28-year-old qualified for the accelerated, seven-month bridging pathway program being offered by Nova Scotia Health.

"It's a good opportunity for sure to know I am working towards growing myself," Lomoro said. "It means I can be about to live my dream of working as a nurse."

It is a dream she has had since she was a child. She was eight when civil war broke out in her home country of South Sudan. The war meant there was no medical care and her family was often forced to hide in the forest to avoid battles.

Passion to work

One of her sisters died as a baby after contracting tetanus because there was no hospital nearby, Lomoro recalls.

Her family fled first to Uganda before settling in one of Kenya's sprawling refugee camps. Even though she later earned a nursing degree in Nairobi, her refugee status made it difficult for her to work there.

So she jumped at the chance to move to Nova Scotia, as a continuing care assistant when she heard employers were hiring. Her goal was always to work toward becoming a nurse.

"I'm so happy I am coming in to bring my skills and help my community and that really makes me feel like I am putting what I practiced and my passions to work," she said.

Retention and advancement efforts

Lomoro is one of a group of 15 internationally trained and educated nurses who started the bridging program in the fall.

It involves four months of classroom theory and three months in practice in the community under supervision.

It is another initiative Nova Scotia Health has put in place to retain health-care professionals during a major staffing shortage. The program is being run by the organization's Learning Institute for Health-Care Providers and is approved by the Nova Scotia College of Nursing.

"We are in a place where we have to be very nimble and quick to meet the needs of Nova Scotians but in a way that is strategic and also innovative," said Tara Sampalli, a senior director of implementation science evaluation and global health systems planning with Nova Scotia Health. "If you worked as a registered nurse somewhere else in a different system, that should count for something."

With all jurisdictions in Canada competing for staff, participants in the program are already being paid, Sampalli said, and are being assigned to communities across the province with an emphasis on improving staffing in rural areas.

Patrick Callaghan/CBC
Patrick Callaghan/CBC

Sampalli is impressed to see one of the refugees who was originally recruited as a CCA move into the program.

"It is such a proud moment," Sampalli said. "When somebody like Agnes is coming into the system, and she started somewhere and is now moving into something else where she is really qualified to be, and that is the most important thing. We want people to feel like they can work in the full scopes of their practice."

Of the 15 people currently going through the pilot bridging program, 10 are from the Philippines, three arrived from Kenya and two from India.

The same registered nurse pilot program will take in more people in April when there will be two different groups and a total of 90 enrolled.

For Lomoro, gaining her nursing credentials in Canada is helping her feel like she has found her place, after initially being concerned about fitting in in Nova Scotia.

"Being a refugee, you need help but this way it means I am not just coming as someone who is in need of help, but coming to make a difference not only for my community but for myself as well," she said

Lomoro expects to complete the program by the fall.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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