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Saint Paul’s boosts immigrant health workers over barriers

  • August 4, 2022

Like many internationally trained health-care professionals who immigrate to Canada, Dr. Sahar Zohni struggled to find a clear pathway into the Canadian medical system.

Trained in Egypt, Zohni arrived in 2012 with over 20 years’ experience as a paediatrician, fully licensed and working in both Egypt and the United Kingdom but found many roadblocks to transitioning to Canada. As a mid-career professional, she had to take medical exams given to new graduates coming out of medical school and was vying for an extremely limited and highly coveted residency spot available to international physicians in Canada.

Helping to bridge that gap, Saint Paul University (SPU)’s Institute for Transformative Leadership has launched a new program that seeks to aid internationally educated health professionals (IEHPs) overcome barriers to finding jobs in their field in Canada. The new program titled, Fostering Canadian Integration for IEHPs: From Learning to Action, is developed in partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the National Newcomer Navigation Network (N4). Project manager at N4, Zohni’s passion for the program, which will be offered for the first time this September, comes from her first-hand experience. 

“The residency piece is essential for you to get into the system and, as one of our stakeholders put it, ‘Getting a residency in Canada (as an internationally trained physician) is harder than robbing a bank,’ ” chuckled Zohni. “This new initiative is close to my heart because I have this lived experience… Ensuring that internationally educated health-care professionals are able to practice their profession in Canada is crucial to addressing the labour shortage, improving patient care and proving Canada’s commitment to fairness, equity and transparency for everyone, including newcomers.”

Over the course of 12 weeks, participating IEHPs will be guided through integral training based on the identification of non-clinical skills and knowledge gaps that create barriers to successful employment and integration. This includes developing personal resilience, interpersonal communication skills and knowledge of health care in the Canadian context. Participants also benefit from the opportunity to create a learning community with others who share their experience. . 

Though COVID-19 has exacerbated the need for pathways to fast track foreign-trained health-care professionals, Chantal Beauvais, Rector of Saint Paul University, says the issue existed for a long time before that. The new program is an extension of SPU’s ongoing partnership with N4, which includes the delivery of two microprograms as part of the N4 online program, Social Justice, Interpersonal Relations and Immigration and Serving Diversity: Settlement and Integration Needs and Challenges. These programs help health-care service providers develop the knowledge and skills needed to support newcomers in navigating the local health and social service systems. 

“SPU is proud to partner once again with N4 on the creation of a program that responds to a real need in our community,” Beauvais said. “At SPU we strive to drive change and build a stronger, more inclusive and diverse society. This new initiative will help us do this.” 

Like many health-care professionals, Zohni was forced to reinvent her career in Canada. After a few years trying to get licensed to practise medicine, exasperated by the expensive process, in 2015 she decided to take her passion for medicine and pursue something else in the health-care sector. 

Zohni returned to school where she completed a master’s in health administration from the University of Ottawa and has been working in health-care management ever since.  

Zohni believes the new program at SPU will help others like her find a way in. 

Even for professionals coming from countries within the Commonwealth, transferring is not easy because standardization in medical practices is not quite there, says Beauvais. Protocols to treating certain medical conditions can differ from country to country, along with medications prescribed due to pharmaceutical approvals — or lack thereof — by different health bodies. Foreign trained professionals working to get on track in Canada often take survival jobs as they navigate the process.     

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