Nursing college, union dispute province’s plans to hire hundreds of internationally trained nurses

A plan by the provincial government to put internationally trained nurses to work to fix urgent staffing shortages in hospitals isn’t sitting well with Manitoba’s registered nursing college and union, who say it could take years to get these nurses on the job. 

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Wednesday there are more than 90 internationally educated nurses that have been going through the process of getting licensed that could start working in a matter of days, and that about 1,360 internationally educated nurses have met basic eligibility criteria to work in Manitoba.

“And as we know, ICU beds are the most staff intensive beds in our health system, so if we are able to get these nurses into the system, we open up more beds,” she said at a news conference, after being pressed on how she will increase Manitoba’s intensive care unit capacity. 

But the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba says it has no idea where Gordon got those figures from. 

To their knowledge, there are only seven applicants that meet provincial requirements, and 48 applicants currently at different stages of registration, said the college’s spokesperson Martin Lussier.

In response, a spokesperson for the province said the 1,360 figure is based on the number of inquiries received through its online intake portal. 

Lussier says the college has repeatedly asked for meetings with Gordon and/or Premier Heather Stefanson to discuss the registration process for internationally trained nurses, but it hasn’t had an opportunity to meet with either. 

“In that vein, we have little to no knowledge of the characteristics or criteria the province is using to determine ‘eligibility,'” beyond the questions in the online form, Lussier said in an email. 

“This form does not ask for much of the information that would be required to determine an internationally educated nurse’s eligibility for RN registration in Manitoba (or any other Canadian jurisdiction).”

Lussier said the figure also likely includes potential candidates for licensed practical nursing. 

Not a short term solution, union says

Meanwhile, the executive director for the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Manitoba said they are committed to supporting applicants through the process. 

“We recognize the need to continue to find new, innovative solutions to expand Manitoba’s health-care workforce at this critical time, and we remain committed to continuing our collaborative work with government, Shared Health, and other stakeholders, to identify ways to fast track registration without compromising safety,” said Jennifer Breton. 

In any case, the president of the Manitoba Nurses’ Union says the province shouldn’t be touting this as a solution to the current pressure on the health-care system, because it will take years to get these nurses on the job.

“It’s not a short-term solution, it is a long-term solution. We do not get those nurses into the system in two weeks,” she said.

“I mean I’m talking to nurses that have been successful that come here as IENs (internationally educated nurses) and have been successful, and I’m talking two to three years for those nurses to have gotten into our system and registered and working as a nurse at the bedside.”

Jackson says the province should have started working on this years ago, and right now, should be focused on retaining the nurses it has.

As of October 2021, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority was short 1,331 nurses, a vacancy rate of 17.3 per cent.