Bridging the gap for internationally educated nurses

The saying that nursing is a calling is known all over the world. In Canada, nursing continues to grow as a respected profession. As a nation of immigrants, more nurses are coming to this country, and to the most-populated province of Ontario, than ever before. They come here for a better life, bringing global experience and a determination to return to the practice they love.

CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) is celebrating 20 years of service in 2021. The non-profit organization was founded by a grass-roots group of community advocates and nurse leaders who were keenly aware of IENs falling through the cracks.

“As recently as 20 years ago there were little supports for IENs when they arrived here,” says CARE Centre Executive Director Dr. Ruth Lee. “Some IENs didn’t know they needed to sit exams to gain a license. They were also unaware that there is a safe practice deadline that can run out very quickly in the settlement process. Canada is one of the most-highly regulated environments for registered healthcare professions, and many nurses were shocked by the differences in nursing here compared to their home countries.”

With a grant from the Maytree Foundation, the immigrant-serving agencies and healthcare providers, supported by nursing organizations, laid the groundwork for one of Ontario’s first government-funded bridge training programs and CARE Centre was born.

CARE Centre supports and guides IENs through a case management model, where nurses become members for life and work one-on-one with their case manager throughout registration, first employment and continuing career development. “I have clients from the early years who stay in touch to this day,” says Lourdes Vicente, a case manager and RPN who oversees CARE Centre’s Observational Job Shadowing (OJS) and Virtual Mentoring Program. “Our successful member nurses are now giving back and helping their fellow IENs who are in the earlier stages of their journey. I tell all of my clients: help other IENs, never give up on your dreams; the sky is the limit to what they can achieve!”

Nurses are the largest group of healthcare workers, and there is new pressure on the labour market as “baby boom” nurses are retiring in large numbers. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how crucial nursing is to the entire healthcare system. Many highly trained member nurses are able to help combat the pandemic by working in health care settings as Patient Care Assistants or PSWs while working on their registration process, keenly feeling the need to help others as the pandemic worsened.

“In Ontario, and every other province and territory, we need IENs to return to nursing practice more than ever,” says Dr. Lee. “IENs reflect our immigrant populations, and they can offer a multitude of cultural and language skills to support their patients. So many of our members arrive with advanced degrees and experience from different countries. CARE Centre now receives federal funding for Pre-Arrival Supports and Services (PASS) to prepare IENs virtually. It’s been our honour to work with each of the thousands of nurses we’ve served so far, and we welcome those to come. We’ll be here for them in every way we can.”

For more information on CARE Centre’s programs and services, visit