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B.C. aims to make it easier, cheaper for foreign nurses to start work

Current approval can take 2 years or more, costs thousands
Registered nurse Dana Pagazzi receives supplies as she attends to a patient in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Surrey Memorial Hospital in Surrey, B.C., Friday, June 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The B.C. government is committing $12 million over three years to speed up regulatory assessment for foreign nurses, help pay the bills and guide nurses through the multiple steps required to work in the province.

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the effort Tuesday, acknowledging that B.C.’s approval process is “complex, costly and lengthy” as it competes for skilled nurses in a world-wide shortage. A wave of retirements has been accelerated by pressure to work overtime and the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan is to speed up the application by allowing multiple steps at the same time, provide bursaries to cover costs, and allow registered nurses to work as care aides or practical nurses while they obtain the approvals and training, Dix said at a news conference in Vancouver April 19.

Currently a foreign nurse coming to B.C. has to apply to the National Nursing Assessment Services at a cost of up to $1,200, Nursing Community Assessment Services, up to $6,000 plus travel costs, complete an English Language assessment, document translation and in some cases upgrade education. The health ministry estimates that it generally takes between 18 months and two years to complete, including membership in the B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives, and some applicants wait longer.

The current B.C. budget also includes $96 million over three years for health care training, including 602 more nursing seats added to the 2,000 nursing spaces in public post-secondary schools.

The ministry says between 2017 and 2020, B.C. increased the number of publicly funded registered nurses by six per cent or 2,259 positions, and the number of licensed practical nurses by 12 per cent, an increase of 1,141.

“B.C.’s supply is growing faster than other jurisdictions in Canada, as our population grows and ages, but the increased demand on our workforce is outstripping that growth,” the ministry said in a summary of the latest measures.

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