Education Without Borders

April 6, 2016

By Debra Clark


Poet Robert Frost wrote these well-known lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” For international nurses who make the long journey to MacEwan University in hopes of either diversifying their skills and knowledge or becoming eligible for practice in Canada, the road is not easy. But it can be very rewarding.

Nicole Simpson, academic coordinator at MacEwan University’s Centre for Professional Nursing Education (CPNE), says nurses from other countries face many challenges on their educational journey, primarily because Canadian practice is significantly different from practice anywhere else in the world. “Canadian nurses are very independent. We do a lot of critical thinking and work very much as a team,” explains Simpson. “Many international nurses bring such great life skills and experience to the table. However, our professional expectations, ethical standards in care and differing academic preparation are just so new to them that it can be a struggle.”

To help minimize some of those differences, Simpson says the programs and courses the CPNE offers help students understand the role of a nurse in the Canadian system, and also teach them the clinical skills necessary to practice. “I believe the Centre provides clinically current courses and clinically current faculty, so nurses are getting the best opportunity to understand practice the way it is done now,” Simpson declares. “We [CPNE] strive to be very culturally sensitive and competent because of our extensive experience with international nurses. We learn from the students and also grow as practitioners.”

The CPNE has set up a number of contracts to help support internationally educated nurses. One formal arrangement saw four cohorts of international nurses from India make the adventurous journey to central Alberta in an effort to enhance their practice in the specialty field of palliative care and gerontology. Gail Couch, chair of the university’s Post-Basic Nursing: Hospice Palliative Care and Gerontology program, says these nurses often arrive with little palliative care exposure and are unfamiliar with Canadian institutional settings such as long-term care facilities.


Many international nurses bring such great life skills and experience to the table. However, our professional expectations, ethical standards in care and differing academic preparation are just so new to them that it can be a struggle.

— Nicole Simpson, CPNE


These nurses demonstrate an amazing development over the two-year program of study. Students receive theoretical and practical knowledge through classroom lectures, discussions, clinical lab practice and a variety of innovative learning activities,” explains Couch. “Due to the fact that older adults and dying clients exist in all care settings, the program is valuable for providing a solid basis for nursing practice in home care, acute care or long-term care facilities,” she says. Couch also notes that regardless of whether these nurses from India remain in Canada or return to their homeland, their international experience enriches their client care and increases their critical thinking and specific clinical skills. “The curriculum is developed using Canadian standard practices and thus gives our graduates an employment advantage for career opportunities available following their successful nursing licensure in Canada.


For Bhawneet Atwal, a registered nurse (RN) now working in Toronto, Ontario, her journey began with the palliative care/gerontology certificate. “I pursued nursing in Canada because of better opportunities and financial support. I spent five years being passionate about my career as a nurse in Punjab, India, and I wanted to pursue the same goal in Canada, where I also had close family,” says Atwal. Although achieving her status as a Canadian RN was not easy – she failed the national nursing exam on her first of three attempts – she points out that it could not have been achieved without the Centre’s help. “My education at MacEwan provided me with Canadian procedures and protocols. It prepared me for my registered exam as well as the Canadian nursing environment. Nicole [Simpson] was always a step ahead to help all of us,” Atwal explains.

Nurse credentialling is another avenue that international nurses can pursue through the CPNE. Specialty courses in the areas of mental health, pediatric nursing, nursing care of the childbearing family and medical-surgical nursing are all available to nurses who have been trained in another country. Kerry Rusk, an obstetrics credentialing lab instructor, says even though the lab is mandatory for students, international nurses are very willing to learn.

“I really admire that these nurses come in knowing that they may never work in this area, but are incredibly enthusiastic to do it,” she says. “In Canada we graduate generalists. The idea being that while they may need additional certification, nurses are essentially qualified to move into all areas of practice. Many of our internationally educated nurses are coming here without having had obstetrics training in their undergraduate education. So, a lab setting allows them to make connections to concepts where it’s safe, and to learn about the expectations of nurses in a Canadian setting.”

“It’s difficult to track all of our graduates after they leave the Centre. However, due in part to the education they receive at the CPNE, they are becoming colleagues in Canada – which is important to recognize,” Simpson says. “I think what the international students don’t realize is how much they’ve enriched our practice, what we do, and how we continue to change and evolve our programs. It’s very much a two-way street.”

At MacEwan’s Centre for Professional Nursing Education, nurses who were trained in another country can become eligible for practice in Canada. As well, RNs who wish to upgrade their knowledge and skills can find the right path. Learn more at  Nurse Credentialing program.

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