Nursing professor wins award for helping immigrants

She’s a visionary, an award-winning teacher, a pioneering nursing educator. And today, Professor Sue Coffey will also be among the first recipients of Ontario’s Newcomer Champion Awards for helping new immigrants settle and succeed in this province.

Mike Colle, provincial minister of citizenship and immigration, is presenting the new awards to Coffey and 13 other individuals at a luncheon ceremony at the Royal Ontario Museum. The presentation coincides with Canadian Multiculturalism Day.

Coffey is being recognized for helping foreign-trained nurses become licensed to work in Ontario and championing on their behalf. Two years ago, she launched York’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program for internationally educated nurses (see YFile Jan. 4, 2006) to enable immigrant nurses to qualify to work in Ontario in as little as 20 months. The program includes language training and mentoring to help students make a smooth transition in the Canadian workplace.

Nominated by Faculty of Health Dean Harvey Skinner, among others, Coffey is cited today for "her outstanding achievement in helping foreign-trained nurses to fulfill their potential." Described as "a visionary" by her colleagues for designing and implementing this one-of-a-kind program, the award-winning teacher (see YFile May 10, 2006) "has also shown a deep commitment to the students themselves. She made time to learn about each student’s home country and area of nursing expertise, and about their personal and family lives."

"It’s nice I’m getting this award, but it’s really so much about York," says Coffey. "It’s about York taking a risk. It’s about York’s commitment to its community. It’s about York’s longstanding commitment to social justice. And it’s about taking action to bring about change."

The Newcomer Champion Awards program, launched earlier this year, honours persons who have made significant contributions in areas such as cultural outreach, cultural celebration and connecting and integrating newcomers to communities. An independent selection committee reviewed submissions from across the province.

In his nomination letter, Skinner wrote: "The Internationally Educated Nursing Program is unique in Canada, and indeed worldwide, in being Canada’s only program for nurses arriving in Canada as immigrants. They undergo an innovative 20-month program offering a direct route to becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) in Ontario. There are over 160 students currently in the program at various stages. Without a program such as this, they would be required to start back at the beginning and undertake a four-year BScN degree. Dr. Coffey has been a champion for these immigrants – many of whom have been in the nursing field for over a decade in their home country (see YFile Aug. 1, 2006). Dr. Coffey has demonstrated the courage and incredible dedication to develop and lead this innovative program.

"Student response to the program has been overwhelming," wrote Skinner. "When asked what the students liked best about the program, there were repeated, heartfelt expressions for Dr. Coffey. To paraphrase their feedback, Dr. Coffey ‘inspires us, pushes us to high standards with tough love, listens to our individual concerns, adapts to our various needs and gives us the confidence that we can be excellent practitioners in our new country.’"

In a June 27 news release, Colle said: "These Newcomer Champion Award winners have been outstanding in their efforts to build bridges that promote cultural understanding and help new immigrants settle and succeed in our great province. Ontarians value diversity for the social and economic richness it brings, and the McGuinty government is pleased to recognize those who move values into action in a way that benefits us all."