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Internationally educated nurses face long waits for work permits

Australian nurse hopes to work at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre
Brynn Windrum-Cotterill, who worked as a nurse in Australia, says she is frustrated by how long it is taking to become certified to work in Alberta. (File photo by Advocate staff)

A registered nurse with experience in an Australian emergency department is frustrated by the lengthy wait to become certified in Alberta to hopefully work at Red Deer’s hospital.

Brynn Windrum-Cotterill said a 12-week application process with the National Nursing Assessment Service actually took 10 months, and she doesn’t know how long it will take to get a nursing permit from the College of Registered Nurses of Alberta.

“I’ve been here for over six months and haven’t been able to step foot in a health-care position,” said Windrum-Cotterill who worked at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, a major trauma centre in Australia.

“I hate to think about how many nurses are in my position who have got experience, and want to work, and because the process is the process, we sit around and wait and wait and wait.”

She said the national service verified her credentials and her education was deemed comparable to nurses in Canada. On Dec. 3o, 2022 she applied to the College of Registered Nurses of Alberta.

“As far as I can see on my end, they haven’t even reviewed my application yet and any emails I’ve sent to them in regards to why it’s taking so long, considering I was deemed comparable at a federal level, they’ve gone unresponded.”

Windrum-Cotterill, 29, who was born in Red Deer, returned to the city in June 2022 with her mother and her boyfriend, and has extended family in Red Deer including her grandparents.

“I don’t want to live anywhere else than Red Deer. In May of this year, my Australian registration will run out so I couldn’t even go and practice back in Australia even if I wanted to. I really am stuck.”

“They want nurses working in health care, but they don’t make it easy. That’s the most frustrating part of it. I want to work as a nurse and I just physically can’t,” said Windrum-Cotterill, who also worked as a health care aide in Australia, currently has a job as a kitchen worker at an assisted-living facility.


Red Deer hospital nurses worry about patient safety

The College of Registered Nurses of Alberta says it is continually reviewing and improving its registration processes to make it more streamlined for applicants to demonstrate that they meet the requirements.

“We want to make it easy for nurses to choose Alberta. Once the CRNA receives a complete application, the average decision time on a CRNA application is one week,” the college said in a statement.

Cameron Westhead, second vice-president with the United Nurses of Alberta, said frustration is common among internationally trained nurses.

“We certainly advocate for as fast a process as possible that also respects the college’s process of ensuring public safety. We know that nurses are desperately needed all across the province and having foreign-trained nurses come to Alberta is something we encourage,” Westhead said.

He said the UNA is also pushing for the federal government to support a national strategy to address the workforce shortage.

Meanwhile, the province just announced an $8.5-million New Beginnings Bursary to help 1,700 low-income students become nurses.

“Making it easier financially for nurses to go through school is something we encourage and support. But what we really need to see is a retention and recruitment initiative that will keep those graduates in this province,” Westhead said.


Alberta looking outside of Canada to lessen nursing shortage

In October, the province announced it was working to reduce barriers for internationally educated nurses by expanding education bridging programs and clinical placements while streamlining the regulatory process and creating a new online platform to help nurses navigate the process.

Last month the province announced that one of the ways it is working to relieve pressure on Alberta’s emergency services system is by looking at hiring paramedics from Australia, where there are more paramedics than jobs.

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