Some Ukrainian medical workers who fled the war for Nova Scotia say they are frustrated by how hard it is to get approval to work in their new homeland.
Nova Scotia called for Ukrainian medical workers through the Support for Ukraine program, which says, “Are you a Ukrainian health-care worker looking to practise in Nova Scotia? There may be a great career already waiting for you!”
The program helps Nova Scotia Health hire nurse practitioners, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.
Ukrainian refugees were also drawn by the Physician Stream, a provincial program seeking immigrant physicians to fill jobs Canadians and permanent residents have been unable to.
But many Ukrainian refugees say these programs aren’t working.
“For now, it’s only silence,” said Oksana Hatlan, who nursed in an intensive care unit in Ukraine for 14 years. She and her nine-year-old daughter were drawn to Nova Scotia by the Support for Ukraine program. Her husband is still in Ukraine.
“They announced that two months ago and since then, silence. So I’m not sure if it works.”
Ukrainians are facing numerous challenges navigating the medical licensing process.
That has meant weeks of waiting for a response from officials, from the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Nova Scotia, and for the medical diagnostic test needed for immigration so they can begin applying for jobs. The cost of medical licence fees adds to their list of worries.
Hatlan moved out of her host family’s residence within two weeks of her arrival in Truro, N.S. In that time, she found a job in the local hospital as a care team staff member.
She said community members and neighbours have bent over backward to ensure she settles in well. However, the province isn’t making use of the medical workers it has at its disposal, she said.
Hatlan said she cannot consider studying full-time to upgrade her qualifications because she needs to work to make ends meet.
“It is very important for health-care workers not to be left out of our profession. We must improve knowledge, skills, learn English and gain new experience,” said Hatlan.
Alison Graham, a councillor in Truro, hosted Hatlan and her daughter. She said after she learned she was a nurse, it motivated the entire community to help out, recognizing that an investment in a nurse is an investment in the community.
“We’ve done our part. Now it’s time for the province to step in and do their part,” said Graham.
Health minister wants to streamline process
Over a month ago, Health Minister Michelle Thompson said Nova Scotia is looking to recruit Ukrainians to fill various health-care roles. She acknowledged the process wouldn’t be easy because of the credentialing process.
On Tuesday, Thompson told CBC News that folks can reach back out to the Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment if they haven’t heard back from them.
She said the hiring process is cumbersome and some of the common issues are unequal credentials and a lack of English skills.
“We do want to streamline the process upholding public safety as the colleges are designed to do, but also, moving people into meaningful professions,” said Thompson.
Thompson said things could be done differently around credentialing to retain health-care workers in the Atlantic provinces, but how that is done remains to be seen.
Recently, Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister met with Ukrainian refugee doctors following similar reports. The province is designating someone to help Ukrainians navigate the process and will also pay the licensing fees.
‘What should they do?’
Daria Vinnytska landed in Nova Scotia from Ukraine nearly two months ago.
She practised as a diagnostic radiologist for over 15 years in a Ukrainian hospital, but her postgraduate training was 20 per cent of what is required in Canada.
She could go through nearly five years of postgraduate training, or possibly work as a clinical assistant. Neither is appealing nor makes sense to her.
Vinnytska chose Nova Scotia because of the Physician Stream.
“The system and all this official organization, they are working very slow and that is the problem,” said Vinnytska. “Any immigrant waiting in Canada, what should they do?”
The Office of Healthcare Professionals Recruitment said it is working on a streamlined approach that helps with recruitment.
Dr. Gus Grant, CEO of the college of physicians and surgeons, told CBC News that the Nova Scotia Health Authority referred 69 medical professionals trained in Ukraine. Most of them are currently not in the province.
The college issues licences to allow physicians to practise medicine in the province. Grant said the college found 26 applicants were clearly ineligible for licensure of any form, and 10 were possibly eligible for a clinical assistant licence.
“There is no bespoke approach for Ukrainian physicians in particular,” said Grant.
Canada has a strict licensing procedure for physicians that must be met, said Grant, but that is not to say international medical graduates with experience cannot help in some way.