All you need to know about nursing in Canada
A special thanks to Suzanne Greaney for providing invaluable personal insights in the creation of this article.
One of the greatest opportunities a Bachelor Degree in Nursing Science will offer you is travel. Nurses have always travelled the world. In recent years Australia, the UAE and the UK have probably become more popular with Irish nurses. However, as we enter the 2020s, nursing jobs in Canada as an international nurse has become an an increasing attractive proposition.
When I qualified as a nurse in 2013, I never considered looking for nursing jobs in Canada as I knew obtaining my license would involve sitting an exam. So, like lots of other Irish people, I set off for Australia. After one year working there, I decided the distance from home was too much and moved back to Ireland.
Fast forward to 2020 and here I am living in Toronto, in the process of obtaining my nursing license. It has felt like a long road at times but I’m glad that I stuck with it and am about to begin my nursing career in Canada.
Thanks to a relatively robust health care system, Canada is an attractive destination for international candidates seeking to grow their nursing career in Canada. Nurses who are most-highly sought-after include those with specialist skills in emergency departments or operating rooms, and those who wish to work in a remote or isolated indigenous communities.
However, there are some important points job seekers need to be aware of in order to secure jobs for nurses in Canada. The first is that your international credentials will need to be assessed, and you’ll need to become licensed to practice in Canada – more on that below. Secondly, procedures differ from one province or territory to another. This means you should have a destination or two in mind as you complete your research.
Applying for nursing jobs in Canada
So, you’ve got the nursing qualifications from abroad but how can you leverage this triaining and experience into a fulfilling nursing career in Canada? Let’s find out!
The NNAS is the National Nursing Assessment Service for Canada and the US, and this is the first step to getting your license is to register with this online service. You can do this process prior to arriving in Canada if you wish. Registration involves completing an online form providing your demographics, education, professional experience for the past five years and declaring every nursing body you are currently or have previously been registered with.
You will need to apply to the National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS) if you were educated abroad and are seeking nursing jobs in Canada (outside of Quebec and the Territories), in one of the below roles:
- Registered Nurse (RN)
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
- Registered Psychiatric Nurse (RPN)
Registration is not cheap; you will need to pay a fee of $765 USD to register with the NNAS. The process involves sending notary signed copies of your identification documents (passport, birth certificate) and having relevant people from your college, previous employment and nursing bodies you are registered with complete the forms provided by NNAS. The website does provide video tutorials on how to complete these forms, and you have one year from the date of registering with NNAS to return all documents.
You will be approved by the NNAS once all documents have been returned. However, it should be noted that this can take up to a year. Once approved, you will have permission to apply for licensure in your province In Canada.
The NNAS will provide an initial assessment of your credentials and match these to comparable Canadian standards. The NNAS have an online handbook you can use to learn more.
On top of the NNAS, each province in Canada requires you to sit an English exam, or French if you are hoping to work in Quebec, if you cannot provide proof of fluency in the English language. The NCLEX exam is the test used to determine your English language skills.
What you need to know about the NCLEX
Most provinces and territories will require strong English-language skills in order to practice. In Quebec, knowledge of French is often, though not always, required. You will need to complete an exam to complete the registration process. Outside Quebec, this exam is known as the NCLEX-RN exam, provided by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) purpose is to ensure you are safe to begin practicing as a nurse. When it comes to nursing jobs in Canada as foreigner, you need to know that every nurse trained in North America needs to pass this exam. It is a computerized, mostly multiple-choice intuitive exam. If you do not pass first time around, you can repeat the exam. Once you pass the NCLEX, it is valid in every region in North America.
It is recommended to complete as much of the application and registration process from your home country as is possible. It is generally easier to obtain documents related to your international credentials from your home country, as you avoid unwanted time differences, international calling rates, and other hassle that can arise when dealing with bureaucracy from abroad.
What to do while awaiting your Canadian nursing license?
My advice for an internationally qualified nurse looking to working in Canada is to start networking within the health care setting from the moment you arrive in the country. Update your resume on LinkedIn and Indeed and apply for administration jobs within the health care setting. Once you are working within the field you will get to speak to nurses and doctors of all different specialities and backgrounds, which can greatly help navigate your career path once you have your license.
What to expect from nursing jobs in Canada
Like every health service globally right now, Canada is experiencing health service challenges with lack of public services, staffing shortages and increased wait times for procedures. As a Registered Nurse (RN) in a public service hospital, you will have higher acuity of patients in your care as hospitals tend to hire more registered practice nurses (RPN) as cost effective staffing measures.
While the above challenges are present throughout Canada right now, there is still potential for career development and growth in the public services as well as ample opportunity to work within privately owned practices as well.
So why choose Canada?
Prior to choosing Canada, I thought about nursing in the UK as I know there is huge prospects for career development and education, however with Brexit on the horizon at the time I wasn’t sure about it.
I applied to the Middle East and did several skype interviews. I had four years’ experience at that time, and I was offered a tax-free salary of €42,000, however the standard working week was 48 hours. The nursing license, once granted, would only have allowed me to work in the hospital I was contracted, meaning I would be quite limited. The Middle East also offers 40 days annual leave compared to the 15 days standard starting point here as an RN in Canada, however in the contract I was advised this can’t be taken in the first 6 months, meaning I would have to work at least a 48hour week every week for 6 month straight. When I weighed up the offer, I decided not to take it.
When it comes to nurse jobs in Canada as an international nurse, the country offers a competitive salary for a 36-40 hour working week . In Ontario the new graduate acute care salary is almost $59,000CAD with an annual increment pay increase. This compares very favourabky with Ireland where a new graduate starts off on less than €30,000 per year. The pay salary varies according to your province so take the time to research the city and province you will be living in closely before making a final decision.
Another benefit is health coverage which generally kicks in after three months of living in the country. In addition, you may be able to access extra health care benefits and bonuses with your employer if you choose to work in the private sector.
Having lived in Australia, another huge bonus that Canada has is geographically it is closer to home for those of us from Ireland, the UK and the rest of Europe. Although I am still in the process of obtaining my license, I am almost one year into my IEC visa now having moved to Toronto last summer, I have nearly survived my first winter, and I am very happy I chose to relocate to Canada!