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"Even in a developing nation like India, you won't have to wait more than 10 minutes to see a physician," said Atharva 'DOC' Chohan, a fellow Public Health program classmate and contributor to the Hot Rod Island series for The Third. "And you will not be waiting more than 30 minutes to see a specialist, even in a publicly funded government hospital," he added, prompting a surprised reaction from our professor amidst discussions on the Canadian healthcare crisis we had during our first semester.

In my first semester as an international student at Cape Breton University, I didn't grasp the depth of the healthcare crisis until I accompanied a feverish friend to the regional hospital's ER, waiting for more than 24 hours to receive care. Now as a graduating student, I have multiple accounts, personal and that of friends, emphasizing the need to have better access to healthcare complimenting the growing population.

The Canadian healthcare crisis resonates nationwide. Even provinces like Ontario grapple with shortages of trained workers, a reality highlighted during a visit to London, Ontario, where a couple, both registered nurses, shared harrowing firsthand ER experiences. However, the severity of the situation seems even worse in the Third and across Cape Breton Island, a reality I hadn't anticipated upon arrival.

While the CBU Med school offers a potential solution, it will take years for the inaugural cohort to graduate and start practicing. As the Third's population flourishes, an expedited solution becomes imperative.

Surprisingly, the solution might already be within our grasp. The lesser-known fact is that we are sitting on a healthcare goldmine. Almost 70 percent of international students in CBU's Public Health and Healthcare Management programs possess healthcare credentials from their home countries.

This cadre of potential healthcare workers, including physicians; dentists; pharmacists; nurses; and traditional medicine practitioners, equipped with their prior experiences and skillsets, could both substantially alleviate the crisis and improve healthcare access for Thirders.

However, the hurdle lies in obtaining Canadian licencing—a costly and time-consuming venture, especially for newcomers. While some CBU international alumni have acquired RN licenses and stayed to work in rural Nova Scotia communities, the grueling process of re-licencing exams dissuades many.

Across the Atlantic, nations like the UK and Germany faced similar healthcare crises, addressing them through immigration strategies that Canada could emulate. The UK partnered with agencies to source qualified healthcare professionals from South Asia, Africa, and other regions, streamlining immigration and support processes, while Germany did the same without middleman agencies.

Conversely, in Canada, the onus largely falls to the candidates, who lack the comprehensive support systems evident in these models. Hence, many choose to come to Canada as a student and try their luck to get their licences later.

Nonetheless, Nova Scotia stands as a beacon. Effective May 1, 2023, the Nova Scotia College of Nursing will expedite licencing processes, enabling quicker licensure for nurses from various international jurisdictions, a promising step that hopefully extends to other healthcare professionals soon.

Akshaya Ranjith, a fellow Public Health student at CBU and a practicing physician with European and Indian licences, witnessed the crisis firsthand at the Regional Hospital. Her determination to acquire a Canadian licence echoes the sentiments of many, seeking guidance and support to navigate the convoluted licensing process.

CBU's initiative to engage international students in its Bachelor of Science in Nursing program via an Advanced Standing Pathway underscores a step in the right direction. However, Canada's broader immigration goals should continue to target professionals aligned with societal needs. Until then, tapping into the wealth of expertise within its international student community might be the best solution with immediate impact.

Considering CBRM's status as one of the hardest-hit regions during the current healthcare crisis, implementing streamlined pathways for internationally trained healthcare professionals seems paramount.

CBU could pioneer an academic program that assists internationally trained healthcare professionals in practicing their original profession, instead of diverting these professionals into management courses for two years. Targeted programs facilitating their medical licencing could be one solution.

Shadowing experienced local doctors or adopting strategies akin to the UK's proven system could be instrumental in integrating skilled foreign professionals swiftly into the healthcare workforce. Governments at all levels must recognize the inadequacy of current measures and diversify solutions to the healthcare crisis.

In conclusion, echoing my neighbour Billy, "The human body is the same whether in India or Canada, and those trained to care should do so here as well."

Multiple solutions exist and are needed to address this pressing issue. One is to harness the expertise within our midst for a healthier, more robust healthcare system.

Do you think that targeted programs to facilitate the medical licencing of internationally trained international students should be available in Nova Scotia?


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