Feds increase funding for program helping internationally trained health professionals get certified

Ottawa Citizen

Thomas Desormeaux Jun 06, 2022  Ottawa Citizen

The federal government is extending funding for the National Newcomer Navigation Network (N4), a program that aims to help newcomers to Canada navigate social and medical services, MP Marie-France Lalonde announced at a press conference outside CHEO Monday.

 “It is with great pleasure that I announce a one-year extension of funding totalling just about $1.5 million, to further support the work of N4,” said Lalonde, parliamentary secretary to the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, speaking from a podium outside a CHEO entrance.

The funding comes from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and will go towards helping internationally educated health professionals complete certification processes for working in Canada. The program also aims to break down cultural barriers that might exist when a recent immigrant or refugee needs health care. It receives no provincial funding and was initially created based on a previous investment from IRCC.

CHEO President and CEO Alex Munter said that, when the hospital began to serve many refugee families, the staff realized there were gaps in how they were providing care.

“When Syrian refugees began arriving in Ottawa, 60 per cent were children. They started coming to CHEO and we weren’t doing a very good job. We were not ready for them,” Munter said. “Any time a parent brings a child to the hospital it’s a scary situation. To do so in a new country, not knowing the language, was even tougher.”

This led staff to create the N4 navigator program in 2019. By helping internationally educated health professionals achieve work certification and providing new language and cultural resources for refugees and recent immigrants, N4 is designed to make Canada’s health-care system more accessible.

The initial program within CHEO was eventually expanded to become a cross-country network and has more than 1,000 members who work in a variety of different sectors.

Christine Kouri, CHEO’s Manager of Health Equity and Diversity, said an N4 team of 10 people works out of the hospital.

In 2021, Canada accepted more than 400,000 permanent residents. Two years earlier, the nation led the world in refugee resettlement, welcoming more than 30,000 people.

“We also have to ensure that they are set up for success once they arrive,” Lalonde said.

Supporters of N4 argue that the program’s infusion of new health-care workers makes the system more adaptable. Events like the COVID-19 pandemic and refugee crises in places like Eastern Europe and the Middle East can put extra stress on already understaffed hospitals and health-care centres. After 2019, there were 40,000 unfilled health-care jobs across the country and CHEO believes that the problem has only gotten worse since COVID began.

N4 has recently been focusing on providing new arrivals and newly certified internationally educated health professionals with the support they need to deal with issues in health care that concern the LGBTQ+ community, trauma and mental health.

Dr. Sahar Zohni is one of the primary architects of N4. She is the manager of the program and has a Master’s degree, as well as a medical degree from Alexandria University in Egypt. She reflected on her own experience of coming to Canada as a skilled immigrant.

“There were many challenges and barriers, just like there are for many others out there like me.”

Zohni talked about how Canada has had a shortage of physicians and health-care professionals for decades. This is part of what inspired her to work on this project to help newcomers become part of a multicultural and accessible health-care community.

“Ensuring that internationally educated health-care professionals like myself are actually able to practice their profession in Canada is important. Not only to address the labour shortage and improve patient care,” she said, “but also, to prove Canada’s commitment to fairness, to equity and to transparency for everyone, including newcomers.”