Coming to Canada
Three internationally trained nurses share why they came from overseas to offer care in Canada
By Alison Brown
It’s no secret that the pandemic pushed the already-precarious healthcare profession over the edge.
Faced with uncertainty, ever-changing pandemic measures, and COVID-19 outbreaks, too many nurses across Canada fled their long term care homes and hospitals, leaving behind an alarming nursing shortage.
To help stem the ever-growing nursing shortage, the Ontario government worked with the College of Nurses to launch a program aimed at recruiting workers from all over the world. These internationally trained nurses are first hired as personal support workers (PSWs) and deployed where extra help is needed. They then have to apply to the college based on training and experience for their credentials to be recognized.
I spoke with three nurses from overseas who have travelled long distances to offer care in Canada. From the Philippines, to India, to the Middle East, to war-torn Libya, here are the stories of these remarkable caregivers and their journeys to come to Canada to care.
Park Lane Terrace
I was born and raised in Cagayan province in northern Luzon, the biggest island in the Philippines. I became a registered nurse in 2012 after working in the computer science field.
My sister is a nurse in Victoria, BC, and my brother is a nurse in Finland, so it was a natural fit. Upon receiving my degree, I worked as a psychiatric rehabilitation nurse in Saudi Arabia for three years and a homecare nurse in the United Arab Emirates.
While I was in Dubai, I saw an online ad for internationally trained nurses who would like to work as PSWs [personal support workers] here in Canada. I immediately inquired and started the application process.
I’ve always wanted to work in either the US or Canada, and my sister who works and lives in BC was always talking about what a great country Canada is. Canada is known worldwide for universal healthcare, good education, and treating immigrants well, so when the opportunity came, I grabbed it.
After about 11 months of processing for my application, I left Dubai and came to Canada in November 2021 to fulfill my long-time dream.
I am currently living with my coworker Jesse, close to Park Lane Terrace in Paris, Ontario. We have been blessed to have a Filipino-Canadian community here who are willing to help us new arrivals to Canada, offering us temporary shelter as well as transportation in the winter months.
The Park Lane Terrace community has been so welcoming since day one. Management guided me in opening a bank account, applying for a SIN card, and applying for the provincial health insurance program.
Our coworkers have been so cooperative, supportive, and accepting. I haven’t struggled in my adjustment to the work and Canadian culture because everyone here has made it easy for us.
Working in a long term care home is a bit of a different concept for me. In Filipino culture, elderly people stay with their families; there are very few—if any—long term care facilities or retirement homes. Caring for your family members is a way to show honour, respect, and love.
In Dubai, government agencies send homecare nurses to an elderly person’s home. There are some long term care facilities, but most people receive care in their own homes.
I was working as a homecare nurse in Dubai when the pandemic hit. I was worried not only for myself but my whole family, but I had to face it because I chose to be a front-line caregiver as my career.
I was fully vaccinated when I arrived in Canada, but COVID-19 isn’t over. It’s an everyday challenge we still have to face as healthcare workers. It’s our job to love our society’s elders and give them the care and attention they deserve.
JESSE MENDOZA FRANCO
Park Lane Terrace
I am from San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, Philippines. I am currently working as a PSW in Paris, Ontario—known as Canada’s prettiest little town—while waiting for my registered nurse certification.
I moved to Canada in October 2021, after a contract in Saudi Arabia. A year before my contract ended, I needed to find a place to work. My choices were New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.
I prayed to God to give me a sign because I was having a hard time making a decision. At the doorstep of my apartment, I saw an artificial maple leaf. I was touched and teary-eyed because my prayer was answered.
After applying to work in Canada, everything was smooth sailing. I still keep that maple leaf to this day, and when I get discouraged, I just look at it and remind myself that this is where I need to be.
On my first day of work here in Canada, I experienced culture shock after working 10 years in an Arab country. In Saudi Arabia, women have to cover their bodies and faces, and male nurses are not allowed to care for women.
When I started on the floor, it was my first time doing personal care for a female client. I was hesitant and felt awkward. But day after day, I became used to the work.
I’m thankful to the management here and the union stewards who made sure my transition wasn’t difficult. I didn’t know anyone in Canada, but I met Francisco online and we’re now roommates. It took courage to move to Canada, but I’ve done hard things before.
My first nursing job abroad was at the Tripoli Medical Centre in Libya during the peak of the civil war. I was living beside the military camp, which was a major target for bombing and artillery fire. We moved to the hospital as our temporary shelter because it was a safe place.
During that time, flocks of wounded civilians and soldiers came to the hospital, most of which were gunshot victims. There was blood all over the floor, and even though it’s a hospital you could feel the tension at all times. Almost everyone carried a gun. We heard a lot of bombing and gunfire.
Nevertheless, we have to do our sworn duty. We were forced to leave when all overseas contract workers were evacuated by the Philippine government due to escalating violence. All airports were closed so we had to travel to a neighbouring country by land.
Before we left, the hospital director gave us a certificate of appreciation for serving the Libyan people during their difficult time. It was an experience as a nurse that I’ll never forget.
I was working in a well-known military hospital in Saudi Arabia at the start of the pandemic, and our department was turned into a COVID ward. It was very intense, and you have to give extra care to COVID patients. We were so busy, and Code Blue was announced often.
One day, almost half of my colleagues got infected, so all of us were quarantined and the temporary ward was closed. Being a healthcare worker, especially in the pandemic, was difficult work, but we were ready to face the war against an unseen foe.
Even in the craziness of the pandemic, long term facilities can be lonely places because residents always long for their family to talk to. As PSWs, we have to give them extra attention and care and be their listening ear.
Chartwell Oakville Retirement Residences
I am originally from Nawanshahr, Punjab, India, and I’ve only been in Canada eight months as of May. Back home I did four years of my bachelor’s degree in science and nursing.
I always wanted to be a nurse because my mom was a nurse for 35 years. When I was growing up, she’d come home and tell me about her day—what incidents happened, delivering a baby—and I was so interested and wanted to do it too.
I started interning at a hospital in India right at the start of the pandemic. I also volunteered as a vaccinator because they were very understaffed.
I had no time to look after myself during that time. I enjoyed it, but it was hard. I’d be sweating all day, and I couldn’t drink water during my whole eight-hour shift; otherwise, I’d have to take off all my PPE, have a sip of water, and put it all back on again. And there just wasn’t any time to do that. I took care of myself when I got home, took my vitamins, and somehow managed to never get COVID.
When I was studying to be a nurse, we’d always hear from our teachers about how great Canada is and how the healthcare is so good there. A couple of my friends moved to Canada to become nurses and often shared their experiences with me.
It was always my dream to work abroad, but I wasn’t sure if I should work in Canada, the US, or Australia. So, when my friends told me all about Canadian healthcare and that they were looking for international nurses due to understaffing, I knew I had to apply.
It was hard moving away from my family because I’m an only child, but my parents always supported me. I thought, you only have one life; just do everything you want to do!
After moving to Canada, I registered for a two-year program for international students at Seneca College for nursing leadership and management. In the first year, I learned about leadership and management roles and all about Ontario’s rules, regulations, and policies related to healthcare systems in Canada, which are much different than the ones in India.
I’m currently in my fourth semester of the second year studying chronic disease management. After that, I’ll start preparing for my NCLEX exam [the National Council Licensure Examination for nurses]. Once I submit my documents from India, I’ll be eligible to become a registered nurse or registered nurse practitioner, based on what exam I write.
A week after moving to Canada, I also started dropping my resume off everywhere. Two hours after I dropped off my resume at Chartwell, the manager called me about a PSW position. Everyone has been so welcoming and great with helping me adjust.
One difference that struck me between care in India and care in Canada is that it is harder here to convince patients to take their medicine. In India we’ll say, “Take your medicine; it’s good for you; it’s good for your health,” and patients comply. But in Canada, no means no. Canadian residents have the full details and knowledge of their medications, and in India they don’t.
But I’m doing what I love. When I first started working here, a resident told me that they love talking to me. I always make sure I ask them about themselves, their likes and dislikes. They’re living all alone in their rooms and having a little conversation with them just brightens their day.
This is something that I will never regret throughout the rest of my life, my decision to become a nurse and the opportunity to serve those who are in need. My service to humanity is my way of giving glory to God, who I believe has blessed me with all the blessings that I have. There was always a message that I kept on repeating to myself during the peak of the pandemic: taking care of mankind is serving God.