N.S. nursing regulator to speed up process to accept applicants from seven countries

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s nursing regulator is reducing the timeline for nurses from other provinces and seven foreign countries to be licensed to practise in the province.

The Nova Scotia College of Nursing says nurses of "good standing and good character" from the Philippines, India, Nigeria, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand will only have to pass the entrance exam in order to start practising in the province.

In a news release Thursday, the college said it expects its new policies will reduce the time period for licensing from about one year to a "few weeks" for the foreign nurses.

In addition, the college says nurses from other provinces will be eligible to be licensed in Nova Scotia in 24 hours, rather than a prior system that required about five days.

The changes creating the streamlined registration processes for Canadian nurses are effective March 29, while the changes for international nurses take effect on May 1.

The seven countries eligible under the new system currently provide almost nine out of 10 international applicants for nursing positions in Nova Scotia, with almost half of the applicants coming from the Philippines and a quarter from India.

The college registered and licensed 282 international nurses as licensed practical nurses, registered nurses or nurse practitioners last year.

Sue Smith, the registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Nursing, says the regulatory changes are the first of their kind in Canada and they are expected to help address the nursing shortages.

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, said in an interview Thursday that the changes are needed as part of a wider strategy to find nurses to fill approximately 1,500 vacant positions in Nova Scotia Health and the IWK Health Centre.

The union leader said the existing university programs aren't able to produce enough graduates to make up for those leaving the profession.

She said she often hears stories of internationally educated health-care workers who are working in the service industry or driving a taxi in Nova Scotia due to the long delays in achieving certification.

"If they're here and they want to work in the system, then the system needs to make it possible. Until now, it's been very cumbersome and time-consuming for everybody," Hazelton said.

"I think it's great and it's going to help recruit to Nova Scotia. When workers look and see it will take months to get a licence in Ontario and just weeks in Nova Scotia, hopefully the decision will be that they're going to go to Nova Scotia," she said.

However, Hazelton noted the recruiting of overseas workers is just part of the overall solution to the staffing shortfalls. She said it's crucial to improve working conditions for existing nurses, ensuring they have reasonable workloads and are able to take their vacations.

"You can bring all the nurses you want from wherever, but if you can't keep the nurses you have, then all of this will be for nothing," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2023.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press