Facing shortage, Quebec to headhunt health staff in France, Brazil, Lebanon, elsewhere

Quebec has a new solution in mind to fill its much-discussed nurse shortage after the pandemic: to headhunt around the globe.

Recruitment missions are set to take place in France, Belgium, Lebanon, Brazil and northern Africa, a provincial spokesperson said Tuesday.

The health ministry hopes the effort will fill more than 4,000 empty jobs that various regions have already identified, said spokesperson Marjorie Larouche.

Each year, Quebec's health districts or CIUSSSes send lists of jobs to a centralized agency that handles international recruitment, called the CSQ.

For the 2021-2022 staffing year, the agency "received more than 4,000 mandates from 28 health and social services establishments" across the province, Larouche wrote.

They weren't all for nurses, but the majority of the requests were for nurses, social workers, speech therapists and medical physicists, she said.

Quebec's health minister, Christian Dubé, has frequently said in the last month that the province is already lacking about 4,000 nurses. That's true before the vaccine mandate takes effect this Friday, which is expected to decrease the workforce by thousands more as unvaccinated nurses are suspended.

The province is dutifully going abroad to help find the requested workers. However, it's important to remember that there's a big gap between what's needed and how well that can be filled from global recruitment drives, said Larouche, especially when there's a need for speed.

Recognizing international diplomas, especially in the medical field, is often an infamously long process.

"It is very important to specify that this is the wish of the establishments, but that the assessment of needs and feasibility is still in progress," Larouche wrote in a statement.

"It must take into account the potential of candidates available abroad, but also the feasibility of the administrative immigration procedures and the recognition of the diploma."

The process to recognize foreign nursing credentials is so strict that many internationally trained nurses already living in Quebec last year still weren't able to help out with minor jobs in the pandemic, despite efforts to fast-track part of that process. 

That included nurses who immigrated to the province under labour streams specifically geared for nurses. 

Each health region is also responsible for many aspects of integrating these potential recruits into their workforces and keeping them on staff, Larouche wrote on Tuesday, again warning that this is another reason not to overestimate how much global recruitment could help.

The feasibility assessment "should also take into account the capacity of establishments and regions to accommodate these international workers, since their integration requires essential conditions to promote retention," she wrote.

One problem in the past with recognizing foreign nursing diplomas has been a bottleneck in college programs meant partly to teach the foreign nurses French.

The current planned recruitment missions may help with this, as it appear to focus on French-speaking countries, with the exception of Brazil.

The province said it was including "the Maghreb countries," which means French-speaking North Africa: Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

--With files from CTV's Max Harrold

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