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B.C. Premier David Eby speaks during an announcement about funding coverage of application and assessment fees for internationally trained nurses, at Langara College in Vancouver, on Jan. 9.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

British Columbia Premier David Eby has announced new incentives to recruit internationally-trained nurses, saying additional financial supports and a faster assessment process could bring as many as 2,000 applicants into the health care work force within 90 days.

On Monday, while its major hospitals reopened emergency operation centres to deal with surging caseloads, B.C. promised it will directly cover application and assessment fees for internationally-educated nurses who want to work in the province, and will also provide financial help for nurses who wish to re-enter the work force. In addition, registration with the BC College of Nurses & Midwives, or BCCNM, will be faster.

“We know the demand for the skills and expertise the nurses bring to the job every day has never been more in demand in our health care system,” Mr. Eby said. “There are highly skilled and experienced nurses who want to get to work in our system now.”

It is the provincial government’s third announcement since last spring seeking to remove barriers to hiring nurses with foreign credentials, and highlights the challenges in recruiting and retaining that critical segment of the health care system while there is a nation-wide shortage.

Last April, the province offered $12-million in bursaries for foreign-trained nurses and launched a consolidated assessment approach. Since then, close to 2,000 applicants started working through the various stages of the registration and assessment process, but potential recruits still faced upfront costs of thousands of dollars, on top of the cost of relocating.

In September, the province offered more funding to the professional associations in charge of accreditation to implement a streamlined approach to assessment and registration. That change is expected to reduce the waiting period for nurses looking to work in B.C., down from three years to between four and nine months.

Cynthia Johansen, registrar and chief executive officer of BCCNM, said additional changes will make registration even easier.

“The new registration process announced today aims to reduce the time it takes to become registered by increasing efficiency, reducing costs and focusing on the most important elements that will allow an individual to demonstrate their ability to practice competently and safely in British Columbia’s strained health care system,” she said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province can’t afford to continue to make it difficult to recruit.

“Nurses are in significant demand, and to put impediments in the system – both in time, which costs money, and in costs for people simply to apply and go through our process – is not the best approach,” he said.

The province has been on a hiring spree in health care since Mr. Dix became the minister in 2017, and with 38,000 more workers on the payroll. But of those, there are only about 2,000 additional nurses, and there are thousands of vacancies.

Aman Grewal, president of the BC Nurses’ Union, said the changes will help bring in relief for overworked health care workers – though she added that the province needs many more nurses just to meet current needs.

The province had 5,325 nursing vacancies last September – the most recent data available. Despite all the government’s efforts, that is a large increase since the start of 2020, when there were just 3,230 unfilled positions.

“That there are these numbers of people wanting to come in to work here in B.C. is very welcome news and will help to close some of those gaps,” Ms. Grewal said.

Monique Wee, an internationally trained nurse, welcomed the changes, saying they will make it easier for others like her to find work in B.C.

She trained and practised in the Philippines as a specialist in pediatric emergencies, and then worked as a nurse in New Zealand, where it took less than eight weeks to get her license converted. She then moved to B.C., where it took two years to get her credentials recognized, leaving her with $10,000 in debt.

“The whole process here was messy, exhausting and expensive,” Ms. Wee said.

She added that she is the only internationally-educated nurse in her unit at BC Children’s Hospital, and she hopes that will change now.

“A lot of our clerks and care aides were all nurses back in their home country. They’re amazing. They’re helpful. They’re very hard-working and they’re very capable of being nurses here.”

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