Monique Wee was about to give up on her goal of working in Canada when she tried one last time to apply to BC Children’s Hospital.
She has a nursing degree from the Philippines, several international program certificates, plus nine years of pediatric nursing experience in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and New Zealand.
“When I got to Canada, I couldn’t even work as a care aid because I was told I had to be assessed and have a license,” she says.
“The only thing I knew how to do was work in the health-care industry, but I couldn’t. I worked as a receptionist and in a massage parlour. I didn’t know what I was doing. It was very humbling, for me.”
Her husband has family in B.C. so their goal was to settle down in the province. She knew it would take a lot of work.
Monique had to send her nursing education papers to the U.S. for assessment.
“Because I had my degree in Philippines, they did not really consider my international experiences in Saudi and New Zealand. I was told I needed to take online courses to be able to convert my license to B.C. nursing.”
It took her two years to get everything organized.
“It was really frustrating and it can get really expensive. It easily cost me more than $10,000,” she says. “The English exam also expires every two years and I’m thinking ‘Does English really change every two years?’”
The process has cost other international nurses in the range of $40,000.
Earlier this year, the BC Government announced International Experienced Nurses will no longer be required to pay application and assessment fees upfront, which cost more than $3,700. Last April, the government announced $12 million to provide bursaries for IENs. The province also plans to spend $1.3 million to streamline the licensing process.
David Waller, the executive director for Professional Practice at BC Children’s and BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre, met with Canada’s Chief Nursing Officer, and held a productive focus group of IENs at the hospital, including Monique.
“We heard providing support and money to help pay for the transition is what will help us attract and retain nurses from overseas,” says David. “The new government funding is good news, for sure.”
David came to Canada as an IEN in 2006. The process cost him nearly $10,000 and took about a year.
“The pathway can be inconsistent and difficult, and hopefully with the new announcement, that will change,” he says.
He is also joining Health Match BC on an international nurse recruitment drive in the coming weeks that will hit four cities in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
David notes, the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), which BC Children’s and BC Women’s are programs of, also provides up to $5,000 in relocation fees to eligible new hires.
Monique applied to the nursing bodies of a few provinces and was accepted in B.C. She then applied to different health authorities in the province, but was told she needed to take the nursing program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).
“I thought that didn’t make sense because I had almost 10 years of pediatric emergency experience,” she says. “I went to Filipino parties and I happened to stumble into a care aid at BC Children’s. I asked for the email of the program manager for the Emergency Department, who was Christy Hay at the time. If I didn’t get an interview, I was going back to New Zealand. It was the last straw. Christy responded and said she’d love to meet me.”
Monique has now been working as a pediatric nurse at BC Children’s for more than three years.
“Of all the places I’ve worked, this is the best,” she says. “The nurse-to-patient ratio is the smallest and it feels the safest. The team is fantastic. We have good supports. I feel very lucky.”
Monique encourages other international nurses to keep pursuing their nursing goals.
“I’m always an advocate to say ‘Go do it!’”
For International Nursing Applicants interested in working with PHSA, visit this PHSA website.
Read more about working at BC Children's and BC Women's and the perks of working at PHSA.