Why are nurses leaving Canada to work in the US?

A letter from the Health Sciences Review Commission writes that the regulatory burdens on nurses are stifling future recruiting efforts. Canada is falling behind as the US recruits increasingly from overseas. Is the task of regulating the healthcare system do-able when health professionals lack the skilled licences to take on these jobs?

Why do newly trained nurses take up graduate positions in the US before being licensed to practise in Canada? When a New York born, Canada trained registered nurse for whom the residency position at New York University was her first step to a public care career chose to enroll in an American nursing program, she would not be issued her licence to practice in Canada. So why are otherwise well qualified nurses failing to graduate and obtain the licences to work as a public care nurse in Canada?

The problem is that these nurses may not have the necessary skills to accept jobs at Canadian public healthcare facilities. “In my view, all prospective public care nursing candidates should take a variety of relevant medical and academic, community clinical and nursing coursework and have obtained a first senior practicum assignment prior to completing one of our annual medical licensing exams,” wrote Meri Schwartz, Associate Director of Nursing at the Medical Practitioners Board of Ontario.

Canada’s healthcare regulatory board has experienced a loss of approximately 50,000 registered nurses over the past 20 years. Canadian nurses are leaving Canada for a higher wage, fewer exam requirements and more patient care opportunities in the US, they say. Health law advocate and professor Omar X. Shahid of Harvard University expressed his view that the regulations surrounding this licensing process are forcing hundreds of Canada’s registered nurses to leave Canada.

One nurse began a long-term resident program in the New York area so that she could be a clinical director in a private practice setting. However, upon graduation she was not permitted to become registered as a public healthcare nurse in her new job. Her experience was not uncommon. According to interviews with nurses graduating from Canadian universities, the Canadian regulatory process imposes excessive and unworkable medical requirements that are not reflected in American licensing standards.

Moreover, these regulations are preventing many relatively young and inexperienced nurses from entering the health care profession in Canada. More experienced nurses, who have the necessary training to provide care to Canada’s elderly, end-of-life patients, those undergoing cancer treatment, and children will choose to stay in the US rather than to take these senior care opportunities in Canada. Canada’s delay in producing and regulating nurses is driving many health care professionals away.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

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