Domagoj Tonžetić works as a nurse in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb.
More than two years ago, he began the process of applying to work as a nurse in Ontario, searching for new opportunities.
“In Canada, I see a much wider range of professional development than I see here,” he told Global News.
But he recently put his Canadian dream on pause, shifting his focus to the United States. He said he will soon begin working as a nurse in Texas.
The process to work in Ontario, he said, was “very complicated” and almost impossible to navigate.
Tonžetić’s struggle to find a role as a foreign-trained nurse in Ontario comes as the province’s health-care system is under significant strain. Emergency rooms have been forced to close and intensive care units reached capacity over the past few days.
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The current crisis, brought on by several factors including the COVID-19 pandemic, has been compounded by a nursing shortage.
In a statement to Global News, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) said it was “outraged about the severe nursing and health-care staffing shortages that are plaguing hospitals.”
“The shortages are being reported in emergency departments, ICUs, medical units, surgery, and more,” the organization said.
In a round of media interviews on Tuesday, Ontario Minister of Health Sylvia Jones said nurses trained outside of Ontario were a key part of the solution to the province’s struggling health-care system.
The government will introduce “additional measures” to boost capacity, she said, specifically mentioning a backlog of internationally trained health workers waiting for certifications.
“We do know that there is a backlog of individuals waiting for those certifications,” she said. “How can we assist, as a province, to make sure that whatever upgrades are needed or whatever assessments happen can happen in an expedited manner?”
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A 2020 report from Ontario’s fairness commissioner found that 14,633 internationally educated nurses were actively pursuing a licence through the Ontario College of Nurses. That same year, just over 2,000 international applicants became fully registered members.
Jones did not specify how long it would take to get nurses trained abroad working into Ontario hospitals.
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“Frankly, finding and assessing and quickly going through the foreign-trained professionals to see whether they qualify … (is) one thing that I think is an important piece but it’s not the whole puzzle,” she said.
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In Croatia, Tonžetić said he found the system of applying to work as a nurse in Canada convoluted to the point of being unworkable.
He cited identity document requirements and the need to have information notarized from “several sources” as two examples of the bureaucratic barriers he tried to navigate.
“I’m really sad to see that they’re not giving us a chance to show our skills and to show our … perseverance to work somewhere abroad and to try our luck somewhere else.”
The need for more people to swell the ranks of nursing in Ontario was made clear in a study released by the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario (WeRPN) on Wednesday.
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The survey found that 68 per cent of nurses say they do not have enough time or resources to properly care for patients.
Sixty-six per cent said they’ve had to take on more patients with higher patient-to-nurse ratios.
The survey was conducted in May 2022 and called “The State of Nursing in Ontario: A 2022 Review”. More than 760 RPNs across the province were polled. It was a follow-up study from December 2020 to measure the conditions of the provincial health care system through the perspectives of nurses.
It also found 86 per cent of nurses surveyed said they have been asked to take on more shifts or overtime to cover staffing shortages.
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Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province needs more nurses but did not announce details of any new plans.
“We’re in need of more nurses — as many as we can get,” Ford said.
A spokesperson for Toronto’s University Health Network recently told Global News the hospital is recruiting to fill 371 vacancies for registered nurses — roughly 10 per cent of its 4,000 person nursing compliment.
In the meantime, Tonžetić is preparing to receive an offer to work as a nurse in Texas.
— With files from Global News’ Gabby Rodrigues & The Canadian Press
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