York breaks down barriers for internationally educated nurses

Nurses arriving in Canada as immigrants would normally have to go about the lengthy, costly and frustrating experience of starting their education from scratch – but a unique program at York University has recently opened its doors to bridge this gap.

York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies now allows students to enrol in an innovative Post-RN Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) Program designed specifically for internationally educated nurses. At just 20 months in length, it offers the most direct route to becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) in Ontario and provides essential support in terms of academic upgrading, language, mentorship and acculturation.

“In the absence of a program like this one at York, these students – many of whom have been in the field for more than a decade – would be required to start back at square one with a four-year BScN degree,” says Sue Coffey, coordinator of York’s Post-RN BScN program for internationally educated nurses. “We realized we needed to take a leap of faith and create a program that would aid in the transition of their knowledge and skills to our health care system.”

Coffey says the response to the program, which has just admitted its second session of students, has been overwhelming. Administrators had planned for one session per year but a three-year waiting list spurred the University to admit another group.

“These students have an incredible wealth of nursing knowledge they can bring to our health care system,” says Coffey. “These aren’t students who are dabbling with the idea of nursing. They have committed their lives to the profession. While there may be gaps related to language or technology, for example, we can help them to overcome those,” she says.

Lesley Beagrie, director of Atkinson’s School of Nursing, notes that the program not only allows internationally educated nurses to put their skills to work, but also brings respect and dignity back to those who had been unable, after immigrating, to work in their field.

Right: Lesley Beagrie views a map which highlights the home countries of students enrolled in York’s new Post-RN BScN program for internationally educated nurses

“Our students are an excellent example of commitment, motivation and persistence in achieving lifelong goals,” Beagrie says. “Their stories make us proud to be part of this amazing journey.”

Students in the new program have immigrated to Canada from a broad variety ofl countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Philippines, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran, and China.

Partnered with the York University English Language Institute (YUELI), the program offers an intensive English as a Second Language component created specifically for health care professionals.

“This is especially important,” says Coffey. “In order to successfully transition to nursing in the Canadian context, language really becomes the vehicle for their success.”

The first batch of students began their studies in March 2005 and will graduate just shy of a year from now, in December 2006.

The bridging program received $535,000 in funding from the Skill Investment Branch of Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), part of $9.5 million in funding to increase access and eliminate barriers to credential recognition and job entry.

“This funding is important in terms of what York University is doing overall to assist internationally educated professionals in securing relevant employment in Toronto, and Ontario more generally,” said Atkinson Dean Rhonda Lenton. “Internationally educated nurses face serious barriers to employment in Ontario. We want to ensure that we remove those barriers.”