Michelle Banaag wanted to be a nurse ever since she was young.
She said she thought the profession was heroic and she wanted to help people.
“It’s kind of a more fulfilling, satisfying feeling when you have cared for another person,” she said.
She completed her degree and became an ICU nurse in the Philippines, treating patient after patient infected with COVID-19.
In January she moved to Vancouver, hoping to become a nurse in Canada.
Many provinces are relying on people like Banaag to help their overwhelmed health-care systems.
The Philippines has been a source of health-care workers for many countries for years, with Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia just some of the provinces that recently announced recruitment deals.
But a senior official with the Philippines Department of Health (DOH) warns the country is now running out of nurses.
Dr. Maria Rosia Vergeire told local broadcaster ABS-CBN News that the country needs more than 350,000 nurses to fill the demands of its own health-care system.
Global News asked Dr. Vergeire for an interview but she was unavailable.
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In a statement, the DOH said the Filipino Human Resources for Health (HRH) ratio, a measure of health-care workers per every 10,000 people, is well below the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation.
The Philippines’ HRH is 24.5 while the WHO recommends 44.5.
Banaag said nurses in the Philippines ideally treat one or two patients. During the pandemic and with too few nurses, however, she said she and her colleagues were treating three or four.
Lisa Little, who is first vice-president of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), said the shortage is global and affects health care delivery around the world.
“(Recruiting foreign-educated nurses) is a quick fix solution in many governments’ eyes, but I don’t believe it’s an ethical one,” Little said.
Little, who is Canadian, spoke to Global News from New York.
The ICN represents many countries’ professional nursing bodies, including Canada and the Philippines.
Tracy Zambory with the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses told Global News that nurses are still struggling with treating patients with COVID-19, as well as with influenza and RSV. She said there are hundreds of unfilled nursing positions across the province.
“That puts pressure back on the emergency rooms,” she said, speaking from Regina.
“There’s units, facilities, agencies in every in every city, town, municipality that is profoundly affected by the nursing shortage in this province.
The website healthcareersinsask.ca, at time of writing, listed 607 available registered nurse (RN) jobs.
Jobs site Indeed showed nearly 800 available registered nurse positions in Manitoba.
There were also any hundreds of Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Nurse Practitioner positions in both provinces in total.
Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson told Global News nurses tell her every day they are counting down to retirement.
“Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see many, many more nurses leave our system,” she said, speaking from Winnipeg.
The Philippines Consul General in Alberta, Zaldy Patron, pushed back on Little’s comments, saying it is not unethical to recruit Filipino nurses.
He said the Philippines government sets the limit of how many nurses can be recruited abroad.
“We have a lot of nursing schools there, and then 7,000 of them are free to seek overseas employment,” he said, in Calgary.
“We have to balance our health care sector requirement as well as the rights of our health care professionals to seek greener pastures abroad.”
Patron said the limit only applies to nurses recruited by other countries (a process which involves the Philippines government) and that everyone has the ability and right to emigrate.
He pointed to the recruitment deal the Alberta government signed with the Philippines last year, which he says will help Filipino nurses get their Canadian credentials.
That process requires taking examinations, providing documentation and can involve taking new courses.
It also set up a recruitment portal, where Philippine universities help the provincial government recruit health care workers.
“Our national government is thinking of coming up with, I think, a law that will require better compensation for our Filipino nurses and better benefits for them,” he said, when asked what efforts the government was making to retain nurses.
Little, Zambory and Jackson also said Canadian health-care systems need to better retain nurses.
Global News requested an interview with the Philippines Nursing Association, but the president was unavailable.
The president of the Philippine Canadian Nursing Association, Lucy Reyes, said there are many Filipino health-care workers in Canada already who would like to work but can’t get their accreditation.
“They are working in positions other than health care. You will see a lot (working at) Tim Hortons and you’ll see (them working at) McDonalds,” she said, from Calgary.
Banaag currently works 20 hours a week as a care aide.
She said she had applied to receive her accreditation.
In B.C., that process requires applying to the Nursing Community Assessment Service, which verifies her English proficiency, education credentials and nursing skills.
Then an applicant applies to the BC College of Nurses and Midwives and staff there review the documents.
The College then decides if the applicant is eligible for registration. After that, the would-be nurse in Canada writes an exam.
Banaag said she’s willing to take whatever course or courses she needs, though she said she may need financial help if the courses are expensive.
She said she wished the process took less time.
“My number one reason in coming here (to) Canada is to earn more to help my family especially, and to enhance my skills,” she said.
The B.C. health ministry, in a statement, said the province is taking actions to support and train nurses, including internationally-educated nurses (IEN).
“With the BC College of Nurses and Midwives (BCNM), we are providing funding to develop a more efficient process that simultaneously assesses IENs for the (healthcare assistant), LPN, & RN designations. This new process helps determine where IENs best fit in B.C.’s health workforce and allows them to start work sooner as an HCA or LPN while upgrading their training to work as a Registered Nurse,” the statement read.
Among other measures, the statement said the ministry now covers the $3,700 application and assessment fee for IENs. It stated nurses previously needed to pay this fee themselves and would be partially reimbursed later.
The Saskatchewan government said in a statement it is committed to following ethical principles in Filipino employment in the health care sector and that it will fully assist and support Filipino health care professionals with credentials and training. It said it works with the Philippines government when recruiting health care workers.
A spokesperson for Manitoba health minister Audrey Gordon did not provide a statement and said the minister was not available.