N.S. to speed up application process for Canadian and international nurses

Nurses applying for licensing in Nova Scotia will still have to pass an entrance exam. (Belle Puri/CBC - image credit)
Nurses applying for licensing in Nova Scotia will still have to pass an entrance exam. (Belle Puri/CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia College of Nursing announced Thursday it is taking new measures to make it easier for nurses from other parts of Canada and around the world to work in Nova Scotia.

The announcement represents a first-in-Canada approach to fast-tracking nurse applications.

Sue Smith, CEO and registrar of the nursing college, told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon guest host, Brett Ruskin, it will create a predictable path for international nurses who want to work here.

"We're basically saying if you've already been licensed in another jurisdiction, we're going to recognize that.... It's so exciting," she said.

According to a press release, registered nurses who demonstrate good standing and good character and are licensed in Canada, the Philippines, India, Nigeria, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, are eligible for licensing in Nova Scotia immediately after passing an entrance exam.

"We need more nurses across the province, and we need to make it easier for nurses who want to come and build their lives here to get to work quickly," said Minister of Health and Wellness  Michelle Thompson in the release.

For nurses working elsewhere in Canada, the application process will be reduced from five days to 24 hours, effective March 29.

Jean Laroche/CBC
Jean Laroche/CBC

For international nurses, applications could be approved in a few weeks rather than a year or more. Nurses will be able to apply directly to the college as early as May 1.

Smith said patients will still receive nursing care that meets Nova Scotia's standards.

"We always keep the public as number one…. So if you're a patient in the hospital or if you're receiving nursing services in a clinic, you are going to have the same level of expertise as any nurse who's also been educated and graduated and licensed to Nova Scotia," she said.

Smith said the college examined the licensed nurses from these seven countries.

"They have the scope of practice that is the same as the scope of practice for a Nova Scotia graduated nurse," she said.

Number of nurses

Nurses make up the largest category of health-care providers in the province, said Smith.

The college registered more international nurses in 2022 than in 2019, 2020 and 2021 combined, totalling 282  licensed practical nurses, registered nurses or nurse practitioners.

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, said in an interview with the Canadian Press 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.

But she   said it's also crucial to improve working conditions for existing nurses, ensuring they have reasonable workloads and are able to take their vacations.

"Working with our other partners, the employers and government, together we can definitely make such a positive difference for all Nova Scotians," Smith said.