Nova Scotia nursing college sees influx of applicants after fast-tracking licensing

By Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia College of Nursing says it is being flooded with applications since it recently began fast-tracking the licensing process for out-of-province and some international nurses.

The college received 10,526 applications as of Tuesday, deputy registrar Douglas Bungay said in an interview, adding that the number exceeded expectations. Temporary and full-time staff have been hired to help deal with the influx, he said.

“It’s great news for Nova Scotia,” Bungay said. “Honestly, we didn’t really know how this was going to be received.”

The provincial regulator announced in March that it would speed up application processing for nurses trained in Canada and seven countries where the scope of practice is similar to Nova Scotia: the Philippines, Nigeria, India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

International nurses in good standing can now submit paperwork directly to the Nova Scotia college and be licensed to work in the province by passing one national nursing exam — shaving months off the registration process that used to take one year or more.

“This process is still going to take us weeks, but it is still going to be quicker,” said Bungay.

Meanwhile, the timeline for Canadian-trained nurses is expected to drop from five days to 24 hours by cutting down on paperwork. The new process took effect for Canadian nurses on March 29; it began May 1 for international nurses. 

Bungay said that since the reform 13 international nurses have been licensed in the province — but he acknowledged that some nurses who apply may not be moving to Nova Scotia.

“It’s important to know that many of these individuals may never show up here in Nova Scotia, but they’ve at least submitted an application and paid the fee that signals their intent to want to come,” he said.

It’s a point echoed by Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, who said she is surprised by the initial numbers reported by the college. Hazelton said it’s an indication that many international nurses are considering Canada as an option.

“I’m sure some of these nurses have applied to more than just Nova Scotia,” she said. Some of them specifically want to come to Nova Scotia, so we need to make sure that we are ready for them and we are welcoming.”

The union estimates there are about 2,000 vacant nursing positions across the province, including as many as 1,700 registered nursing jobs and about 300 or more licensed practical nursing jobs. 

Getting nurses licensed is one thing; recruiting them to work in Nova Scotia is quite another, Hazelton said.

“We need to make sure that we keep them,” she said, adding that for that to happen, nurses have to find suitable housing in the province and jobs that fit their skill sets. 

Nova Scotia is one of several provinces that have recently taken steps to streamline the licensing process to attract nurses.

Earlier this year, British Columbia announced $1.3 million to set up a new pathway for internationally trained nurses and assess applications faster.It also eliminated the requirement for nurses trained outside Canada to pay application and assessment fees up front. The province set a goal of reducing wait times from up to three years to between four and nine months.

Like Nova Scotia’s nursing college, the Alberta College of Registered Nurses last month eliminated the lengthy credentials assessment by the province’s nursing service and replaced it with an internationally recognized registration exam.

The Nurses Association of New Brunswick, meanwhile, recently waived criminal record checks and application fees for out-of-province nurses.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2023.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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