History of CARE Centre for IENs

CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) was created in 2001 to address a major gap in Ontario’s healthcare human resources strategy. Nurses comprise the largest employee group in the sector, and there are frequent, cyclical staffing shortages. Yet in 2001, IENs who had settled in Ontario were failing their registration exams at a rate of almost 70 percent, having no supports for them to learn about the Canadian healthcare system, acquire occupation-specific language and communication skills, and have the resource materials and guidance to successfully prepare for the RN and RPN exams. A steering committee of individuals from organizations concerned about the barriers IENs faced in gaining registration came together to study solutions to the problem.

The founding committee included representatives from WoodGreen Community Services, Kababayan Community Services, St. Michael’s Hospital, and the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care. The group’s early feasibility work was supported with a grant from the Maytree Foundation, and was supported by the nursing regulatory body, the College of Nurses of Ontario, professional associations, the provincial nursing union and the Ontario Nursing Secretariat. CARE Centre engaged the first of multiple educational partners in George Brown College, with whom they developed the Nursing in Ontario curriculum, now delivered in nursing programs across the province.

Since that time, many similar programs have been developed from the CARE Centre model for other regulated professions. Prior to the creation of the CARE Centre, IENs had many challenges in returning to their profession, gaining employment, successfully integrating into the Ontario healthcare workplace and excelling in their careers. CARE Centre has assisted both individual IENs, who now successfully pass their exams at a rate of more than 80 percent, and has affected systemic change. With growing demand for long-term and community care for an increasingly diverse and aging Ontario population, the organization’s member IENs have a distinct and important role to play in the province’s immigration and healthcare human resource strategies.

Today, 12 percent of the nursing workforce in Canada is comprised of IENs and in the very multi-cultural Greater Toronto Area, IENs make up more than 25 percent of nursing staff. CARE Centre continues to develop a range of custom programs for IENs, and recently received funding from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to deliver a Pre-Arrival Supports and Services program, connecting with IENs in their country of residence to help them quick start the registration process. Once IENs arrive in Ontario CARE Centre offers nursing-specific language and communications courses to prepare  for the OSCE and CELBAN exams and helps IENs gain important experience through Observational Job Shadowing, which pairs CARE Centre members with expert nurses to get first-hand exposure to the Ontario healthcare workplace. CARE Centre also assists IENs with their Competency Assessment Supplement (CAS), and offers regular workshops for specialized clinical certificates. Programming is accessible to members in person or via videoconferencing to expand service beyond southern Ontario. A new Workplace Transition Program now supports both IENs and employers with workplace orientation and integration.

Over 3,500 nurses from more than 140 countries have accessed services and supports at CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses since 2001.  The organization is headquartered in Toronto with additional offices in Hamilton, Peel Region (Brampton and Mississauga), London (Windsor) and Kingston, with service to outlying catchment areas. In 2011 CARE Centre established the CARE Centre Joan Lesmond IEN of the Year Award to recognize an outstanding member IEN, now entering its sixth year and celebrating one RN and one RPN. In 2014 CARE Centre supported its membership to create a conference “for IENs, by IENs”, to share IENs voices and experience and to recognize the on-going and significant contributions of IENs to Canadian healthcare and society. A new Conference Board of Canada report, Measuring Returns: Valuing Investments in Internationally Educated Nurses proves IENs are integral to the future of Canadian nursing, becoming quickly job-ready through bridge training, ready to prevent nursing shortages, reflect the diversity of the patient population, and pay back the investment of government support by bringing a wealth of global skills and experience to healthcare in this country.