Tackling the Healthcare Workers Shortage
September 30, 2022
The biggest issue facing the Ontario health system today is a serious shortage of healthcare workers. This gap in the workforce can’t be filled without the assistance of professionals trained outside of Canada.
The Ontario Minister of Health responded by giving the go-ahead for the College of Nurses of Ontario to engage in a number of initiatives to allow for quicker entry of internationally trained healthcare professionals. They have waived the registration fees and, more recently, are modifying the registration requirements to allow for direct and quick entry of internationally trained healthcare providers.
Matching Skills With Need
This will benefit programs like The Chang School’s Internationally Trained Healthcare Professionals (ITHP) bridging program, which launched this fall. Dr. Pria Nippak, Academic Coordinator, Health Services Management, The Chang School said programs like the ITHP are needed to fill the skills gap. “They allow for viable access to identified healthcare professionals to immediately tap into some of the opportunities for them that have been created by the province in an effort to fill the growing gap in health professionals,” says Dr. Nippak.
She went on to say: “The ITHP program can also serve as an information hub to the provincial resources and services that are available to ITHP entering the country. Most importantly, the ITHP program can provide some of the foundational education necessary to ease their transition into their professional field in this country.”
In addition, many of the courses offered in the ITHP program are degree-credit with laddering opportunities for students to continue their education while and after they are employed so that they can advance in their careers. Foundational knowledge regarding the healthcare system structure both federally and provincially, how health information is acquired, stored and accessed in addition to more general soft skills that will optimize the transition process are all taught in the courses, says Dr. Nippak.
The Role of Post Secondary Institutions
Historically, Dr. Nippak says post secondary institutions play a key role in responding to labour shortages. “University programs are designed and built on an intended goal of meeting a societal need and they are continually assessed and redeveloped if needed, based on the changing needs of society,” she says.
“Many of the labour needs are tied to educational and skill based jobs, which the universities and colleges can play an important role in providing. Direct relationships with the government to tailor programs to the on-going needs, particularly the labour shortages and societal impacts associated with gaps in service, like is the case with healthcare.”
Dr. Nippak cites a clear example of this, which can be seen with the recent partnership that will see growth in medical school education, outside of major cities in adjacent city centres like in Scarborough and Brampton. Specifically, Dr. Nippak is referring to Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Medicine that is coming to Brampton Ontario to address the growing shortage of doctors in this province. A recent report that came out found 170,000 Ontario patients lost their family doctor in the first six months of the pandemic, leaving them without a primary care provider.
“Currently, the ITHP program does not have a specific program stream to address this, but I think that this is something that can be considered for the future given that The Chang School offers some courses that could with some revisions be adapted for the program,” says Dr. Nippak, referring to addressing burnout in the medical profession. She added that The Chang School offers certificate level, non-degree credit courses in healthcare related to the mental effects of prolonged stress (CVOH 110 - Promote Frontline Worker Mental Health and CVOH 115 - Support Frontline Worker Mental Health).
Building a Community of Professionals
Aside from addressing the staffing shortage, Dr. Nippak points out that the ITHP program also helps towards building a community of professionals that students can tap into once they are employed in Canada.
“The benefit of this program is that these ITHPs have many opportunities to engage, both inside and outside of a classroom setting,” says Dr. Nippak. “The strength and significance of these kinds of connections for those that have recently come to the country can have enormous positive effects. As well, it is worth mentioning that this pandemic has shone a light on the enormous barriers faced by ITHPs in the past, that have come to this country and met the immigration requirements to enter, with the expectation of working in their fields only to find out that there are no clear or direct pathways to enable it.”
Dr. Nippak went on to say that these barriers have resulted in many of them leaving or moving to other provinces in the past. However, she adds that as we see more initiatives surfacing post-pandemic, each of them highlights or un-surfaces some of them.
“Canada really does need the support and assistance of our internationally trained health professionals, particularly during this period of vulnerability that we are facing. I hope that these short term changes made in response to this imminent need, will remain once the dust has settled and we have smoothly exited the hardships brought from this pandemic.”