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Foreign-trained nurses frustrated by registration process

Some nurses who trained and worked in foreign countries say they have given up their plans to resettle in New Brunswick because of difficulties getting accredited.

Radio-Canada spoke with six nurses who moved to New Brunswick and intended to work in their field.

Only one of them has completed the certification process, and several ended up moving to Quebec.

Here are a few of their stories.

Charlotte Binetruy

Charlotte Binetruy, 31, was a nurse in Switzerland for eight years. She was recruited for her skills and chose to settle in New Brunswick with her family. She had a job offer at the hospital in Edmundston.

Binetruy said she took a competency test and was told by the Nurses Association of New Brunswick she needed a little upgrading to meet provincial standards. But she said the 35 hours of training she needed was only available over a period of 13 months.

That was too long a time to go without an income, she said, while she also faced major expenses such as buying a house.

“I totally understand that you have to upgrade,” Binetruy said. “We’re coming from Europe to North America. The medications aren’t the same. The procedures are different. It’s not exactly the same role. 

“What I question is the program that’s offered.”

Despite all that, Binetruy was still going to proceed with the training, until she found out in August 2018 that the upgrading courses she needed had been suspended indefinitely because of a lack of funding.

Binetruy and Hehlen were planning to settle in Edmundston but ended up moving to Lac-Mégantic, Que. (Nicolas Steinbach/Radio-Canada)

“We were just about to leave for Canada. Our immigration was ready. Our permanent residency was coming. We had sold our apartment in France. We got rid of all our things. I had turned down jobs in Switzerland.”

In June, she and her family moved to Lac Mégantic, Que., where she began a 75-day paid internship. She was accredited in October.

Quebec has a skills agreement with France that has seen more than 1,500 nurses licensed in that province since 2011.

Binetruy and her husband said they have not completely given up on New Brunswick, but they’ll be staying in Quebec, at least so their son can finish the school year.

They remain bitter about their experience with New Brunswick.

“It cost us between $6,000 and $7,000,” said Thibaut Hehlen, Binetruy’s husband. 

“That’s wasted money that got us nothing at all. We’re still waiting for answers from New Brunswick. If they don’t have an offer for us, we’d at least like to have our money back.”

Laïla Sahnoune

Laïla Sahnoune, 41, was a home-care nurse in France for 18 years. She arrived in Moncton in August 2018, with her daughter and her sister’s family.

“I was chosen for my degree. Since there was a nursing shortage in New Brunswick, that was on the list of professions in demand.”

Sahnoune paid $700 to a regulatory agency in Philadelphia to have her skills assessed. The agency lost some of the documents she sent by registered mail. She had to resend them.

She was told she needed six weeks of training to become a licensed practical nurse.

Laïla Sahnoune says that as a single-parent she couldn’t afford to take six weeks off work to complete the upgrading she needed to become a licensed practical nurse. (Nicolas Steinbach/Radio-Canada)

“I had to say no. Because with pay of $11 an hour, it wasn’t possible. I have my daughter to feed. I can’t afford to take that big a step back.”

Sahnoune worked in a daycare in the Moncton area for almost a year.

Then, like Binetruy, she found out the upgrading courses she needed had been suspended. 

She became discouraged by the slow process and left for Sorel-Tracy, Que., in June, where she’s now licensed.

“We’re staying here now,” Sahnoune said. “I’m not going back to New Brunswick, even if my sister is there.”

“I’m so disappointed and tired.”

Sahnoune said New Brunswick should have its own program like the one Quebec has with France.

“One wonders why they’re not doing anything. Why don’t they use the experience of the province next door to see how they could adapt it for New Brunswick?”

Émilie Labat

Émilie Labat, 37, is originally from Belgium, where she worked as a nurse for 15 years at the Queen Fabiola university hospital. 

She arrived in Moncton in February 2017 with her husband and three children.

It took 20 months, but Labat did finally get her certification from the New Brunswick Nurses Association. 

She felt like she had no other option but to stick it out. There’s no agreement between Quebec and Belgium. 

Labat now works at the Dr.-Georges-L.-Dumont hospital.

Émilie Labat says she feels cheated after spending at least $12,000 and 20 months to become a registered nurse in New Brunswick. (Nicolas Steinbach/Radio-Canada)

But she still feels cheated by the process of becoming a nurse in New Brunswick.

“Just in fees, we must have paid around $12,000 or more,” said Labat.

“They bring you here and tell you you can’t work. It’s going to take at least a year and a half or two years before you can work. Meanwhile, all we want to do is continue our career and have a normal life. We’re using up our savings because we don’t have the work we’re supposed to have.”

Nurses’ association responds

The NANB declined to be interviewed for the Radio-Canada report but issued a statement afterwards.

It said the registration process in New Brunswick is similar to all other provinces except Quebec, and it noted not all of the six nurses in question had not applied for registration in New Brunswick.

The NANB confirmed there was a six-month period in 2018 during which the upgrading program had no co-ordinator. But it said courses resumed in January 2019.

Upgrading courses for nurses were unavailable for six-months in 2018. (Nicolas Steinbach/Radio-Canada)

The association has begun a review of the registration process for internationally educated nurses, said executive director Laurie Janes, and is helping to develop a provincially based education program.

Health authority urges action

The head of the Vitalité Health Network said aggressive action is needed to help foreign-trained nurses stay in New Brunswick.

The province is going to need an estimated 1,300 new nurses by the end of the next decade.

Nursing staff shortages have already forced temporary closures of several units at several hospitals.

Gilles Lanteigne said a program is in the works to help foreign-trained doctors transition to the New Brunswick workforce.

He said nurses are an even bigger health-care priority.

“It’s very troubling in the sense that if we have nurses that we’ve been able to attract to New Brunswick and that for administrative — or reasons that are very, very hard to understand, have to leave. I think we need to adjust. We need to adjust very quickly.”

Over the past four years, the national nursing assessment service has processed 124 advisory reports from registered nurses abroad seeking to work in New Brunswick. Of these, the New Brunswick Nurses Association received 36 applications for registration and only six nurses completed the process.

Unacceptable, says premier

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs called the situation “unacceptable.”

“[The nursing shortage] is an issue that concerns me greatly,” said Higgs, adding he had discussed the issue with the prime minister this week.

The province appointed a special adviser in May to try to resolve issues faced by internationally trained nurses. Radio-Canada attempted to contact him, but he did not reply.

Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder said he is working on the issue. He said he was open to exploring the models implemented by neighbouring provinces, including Quebec.

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