CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Helping hand for foreign-trained health professionals

By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun

In a social service agency in Scarborough a couple of months ago, a handful of medical professionals who were trained overseas -- including at least three physicians from China, Korea and Guyana -- were expressing their surprise and frustration at how difficult it is to put their skills and intelligence to work in Canada.
RN degree at Ryerson

Yet despite the sometimes dire predicament of foreign trained health professionals, there are schemes in place and plans afoot that are helping some, if not all, of those whose qualifications were obtained abroad.

The Ontario College of Pharmacists ( is one such body that is leading the way in providing a relatively quick, smooth passage into the profession for the internationally trained. Della Croteau, deputy registrar of the college, says it has been a partner with the University of Toronto for the last three years in an international pharmacy graduate program.

The international grads take two eight-week courses of classroom instruction, says Croteau, who points out 25% of the licensed pharmacists in Ontario were initially trained abroad. There's also 32 weeks of practical training for them under the direction of Canadian trained pharmacists, she adds. Once that's complete, the graduates are set to write their licensing exams.

Another leader is the College of Nurses of Ontario (, which in 2003 received 2,100 applications from registered nurses and registered practical nurses trained abroad and wanting to work here.

Brenda Lewis, a consultant who took psychiatric nurses' training in Trinidad and then her RN degree at Ryerson, says the college has numerous tools to help nurses trained overseas. For example, says Lewis, for would-be nurses here or still abroad, the college has an e-fact sheet available on its website and a self-assessment test.

"The applicant can then apply for registration and we would send them the necessary package of information. It includes a form that they can send to their employer, the registration board and the school of nursing. Once we get that back, as well as the fee for registration, then we can start assessing them."

The college also has a fact sheet that explains Canadian licensing exams since, says Lewis, passing them is difficult. The college also steers nurses trained overseas towards the CARE (Creating Access to Regulated Employment) project.

It's a modularized program and one of the key aspects of it is Orientation to Nursing in Ontario, which gives applicants a better understanding of what nursing practice expectations here are.
  • College websites are the best place to start for the foreign-trained health professional.
  • Those trained overseas should recognize the difference between a college, which regulates a profession, and professional associations, which represent their members' interests.
  • Anyone seeking accreditation or certification should be aware that all necessary paper must be complete and accurate.
  • Each college has the duty to ensure its professional standards are maintained.
  • Applicants must pay all certification fees and should be aware that they may have to pay other fees, too.

  • Kathy Wilkie, registrar and executive director of the College of Medical Laboratory Technologists of Ontario (, says as well as the fact sheets and so on posted on college and provincial ministry websites, there are a pair of bridging programs available to those trained abroad. One is at Mohawk College in Hamilton, which lasts nine months; the other is at the Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences in Toronto, which tailors, to some extent, the length of the program to the student's standing.

    Bridging programs

    One of the great things about both bridging programs, says Wilkie, is that the clinical experience requirements the medical lab technologists must have are built into them.

    Sharon Saberton, registrar of the College of Medical Radiation Technologists of Ontario (, admits for the foreign trained qualifying here "it is a bit of an arduous process." To lessen that difficulty somewhat, the college has an exceptional plan that allows those who want to work in Ontario -- once they meet all of the qualifying criteria for the profession -- to write their certification exam offshore.

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