Health officials’ trip to Philippines finds 350 nurses, health-care aides who want work in Manitoba: minister

Nearly 350 already trained health-care workers from the Philippines have been offered letters of intent after a recruitment mission to the country last month, the Manitoba health minister says.

Audrey Gordon said the letters were given to nearly 190 registered nurses, 50 people who are the equivalent of licensed practical nurses and 110 health-care aides during the province’s five-day trip to Manila, Cebu City and Iloilo from Feb. 21 to 25.

“This significantly exceeded our goal and expectations, and I look forward to welcoming those health-care professionals into the health system here in Manitoba,” she said at a news conference on Wednesday.

During the five-day trip, clinical leaders and human resource professionals interviewed more than 400 applicants who were prescreened to ensure they had a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a minimum of two years of experience in acute care or care of the elderly, said Ken Borce, chief of clinical operations at Cancer Care Manitoba, who took part in the recruitment mission.

Preference was given to those who have already met English language requirements.

A Black woman in a yellow top and beige coloured jacket stands behind a podium that says "Health HR Action Plan," flanked by a bald Filipino man in a blue suit.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon talks about the health-care recruitment mission to the Philippines at a news conference on Wednesday. Advanced Education Minister Jon Reyes, right, attended the recruitment mission last month. (CBC)

The roughly 350 people will get followup calls in the coming weeks to discuss their immigration, English language requirements and to schedule their clinical competency exam.

“While each of their journeys will differ slightly, the support and the warm welcome will not,” Borce said.

Advanced Education Minister Jon Reyes, the son of a man who immigrated from the Philippines in 1968, said it was an honour to meet so many eager people hoping to work in the province.

“It gave me such great pride and joy to see many of our kababayans, compatriots, which we say in the Filipino language, travel from eight hours away or five hours away after a night shift coming for this interview,” he said at the news conference.

Some internationally educated nurses in Manitoba and the organization that represents them have said the province should focus on nurses already in the province who are having difficulty becoming registered.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont agrees.

“There is enormous capacity in the system to actually get people who are living here and are qualified as nurses and doctors … working in the system,” he said in an interview following the news conference.

“The reality is they’re being driven out.”

A man with grey hair wearing a blue suit and a red tie stands behind microphones.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says it’s unethical for the provincial government to recruit hundreds of nurses from the Philippines, a country facing its own nursing shortage. (CBC)

He pointed to a similar move in 1999, when the provincial government recruited about 400 Filipino nurses to work in Manitoba. But few ended up coming to the province and staying, due to challenges getting trained and poor working conditions, Lamont said.

“It was exactly the same thing…. I think it’s a pipe dream. I think it’s verging on a swindle for the government to suggest that this is a plan that’s going to work.”

When asked about that problem, Gordon said the government is working with the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba to “modernize the pathways” to get these nurses into the workforce faster while they’re receiving additional clinical and language training.

Faster registration process

The college previously announced it has developed a faster pathway to registration for the newly recruited Filipino nurses.

The accelerated option is meant for nurses who received a conditional offer of employment through the province’s recruitment trip to the Philippines, the college said in a news release last month.

The nurses will be able to finish a significant amount of the application while still living abroad, and certain steps in the process can be completed simultaneously.

The college hopes to eliminate at least 12 weeks from the application process, helping the recruited nurses register in eight to 10 weeks.

‘Huge ethical problem’: Lamont

Lamont and the head of an organization that advocates for nurses globally also raised concerns about countries like Canada searching for nurses in lower-income countries.

“It’s a huge ethical problem because the Philippines is facing a shortage of nurses,” Lamont said.

Howard Catton, the chief executive officer of the International Council of Nurses, calls the move by the province of Manitoba and other regions exploitative, saying it will magnify shortages in the countries from which the nurses are being recruited.

“There are high-income countries who are going on global shopping trips for nurses, but the shelves of the stores that they’re going to are very thinly populated with nurses already,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

Catton says Manitobans should challenge the government on the ethics of its recruitment strategy.

“[Manitoba should] be asking and demanding to see the evidence of how you know that you are not doing any harm, and in real, practical, tangible terms, how you’re giving back — how you’re ensuring this is not an exploitative relationship,” he said.

The province should go beyond sharing health practices and knowledge, and should invest in nursing schools in the Philippines, Catton said.