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For Florence Tipon, the long road to Canada to pursue her nursing career hasn't been easy, but it has always been worth it.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Florence grew up surrounded by family in the medical field. Inspired by her two aunts who were nurses and having an uncle as a doctor, she says she knew she wanted to follow suit and make a difference in the lives of others.
Ten years into her career, after working both in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, she immigrated to Canada in 2017, but soon realized the road ahead to become licensed in Ontario would be a long one.
Florence worked as a personal support worker (PSW) while completing courses and figuring out how to reach her goal.
"I was losing hope about getting my nursing licence here in Canada, I felt like I was dreaming an impossible dream," Florence says.
One of numerous initiatives at UHN to address human resource crisis
In January 2022, she learned about the Supervised Practice Experience Partnership (SPEP), a program for internationally educated nurses (IENs) that would allow her dreams to come true. She quickly applied and one month later started as an IEN learner with Toronto Rehab working in the Specialized Dementia Unit.
The SPEP is run by the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) and Ontario Health as an initiative to allow for equal opportunity and proper training for IENs at hospitals within Toronto Academic Health Science Network (TAHSN) hospitals. The program provides paid, supervised work placements for IENs, with the internships enabling them to become nurses certified to work in the province.
It offers the IEN learners an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of entry to practice competencies and expand their perspective of Ontario nursing practice – their final registration requirement to enter the province's nursing workforce.
UHN's partnership with the SPEP is one of the many initiatives the organization has engaged in to create a viable pipeline of nurses to address the human resource crisis. Others include People & Culture's Talent Acquisition team accelerating recruitment initiatives, career fairs and expert panel information sessions, partnerships with external stakeholders and the roll out of an employee referral program.
"We're very proud of the creative initiatives that have been implemented to date," says Diana Elder, Vice President of UHN People & Culture. "The Talent Acquisition team is continuing to work on programs and initiatives that highlight our dedication to easing the healthcare crisis and our commitment to better patient care."
Since the first cohort launch of the SPEP program in February of this year, UHN has hired 15 IENs who completed their IEN learner placements within the organization, and that number continues to rise.
At UHN, the program requires the IEN learner complete a minimum of 140 hours up to 300 hours of supervised practice depending on the individual's needs. From there, the IEN learner is placed with a preceptor who supervises them for the duration of their time and supports their learning. The end goal is registration as a registered nurse (RN) or registered practical nurse (RPN).
"We're a learning health care organization, so what a better opportunity to offer a career development program that will allow our internationally trained colleagues to reach their dreams of becoming a registered nurse here in Ontario," says Brenda Perkins-Meingast, Senior Director of Practice Based Education, Nursing Strategy and Lead of the SPEP program at UHN.
"Really, our goal is to help these nurses see their dream through and make it a reality after many challenges. We want to continually support and invest in the growth of our IEN nurses, it doesn't just end with completion of the program."
Brenda says after reviewing resumes of each candidate, they work together to try and match them to a unit of interest or expertise so they can get the most out of the program – with the goal being that they stay on and join the team.
Originally from India, Pawanjeet Kaur, an RN intern candidate in the program, says she could not have asked for a better experience getting placed with UHN. She worked as an IEN learner in the Musculoskeletal Unit at Toronto Rehab, and quickly got hired on as an RN after her placement.
Special thanks to preceptors, APNEs and the entire team for their support
"It was a long road to finally getting this opportunity," Pawanjeet says. "My preceptor was beyond supportive and amazing in encouraging me to reach my goals, along with my whole unit.
"It really makes a world of a difference receiving such overwhelming support and having an incredible work environment."
Pawanjeet says being able to work as an RN at Toronto Rehab was worth every single minute of the wait to achieve her dream, and the ability to make her younger self proud.
As for Florence Tipon, she echoes Pawanjeet's expressions of gratitude to her preceptors and Advanced Practice Nurse Educator "for sharing their skills, answering all my questions and educating me.
"I will never forget what they did for me and for keeping me on track," says Florence, who completed her IEN learner placement at the Specialized Dementia Unit at Toronto Rehab and now works there full time as an RPN.
"The opportunity UHN gave me allowed me to realize my dream wasn't impossible," she says. "I went from impossible to possible – and for that I am very grateful.
"I would tell other nurses that were in my position to focus on your goal, don't lose hope and don't forget where you came from. It's hard but at the end of the day hard work pays off."