Wider Horizons

Mandana Azar AfsharLethbridge College’s ESL for Nursing program brings the classroom to students around the world.

When Mandana Azar Afshar came to Canada from Iran last July, she was in search of educational opportunities for her 16-year-old daughter.

But along the way, the 43-year-old discovered there were opportunities here for her, too. In September, she started taking online English as a Second Language classes offered by Lethbridge College in southern Alberta, classes created specifically for trained foreign nurses to improve their medical English in preparation for writing Canadian nurse licensing exams.

The college is coming to the end of a successful two-year pilot program (made possible by a $300,000 grant from Alberta Employment and Immigration) that has shepherded non-native English speakers from around the world through specialized ESL training. The students can choose from classes in speaking, listening, reading or writing, and “go” to class online, when it suits their schedules, from anywhere in Canada or around the world.

“It is a very good program,” says Azar Afshar. “I definitely recommend it to other people.”

Azar Afshar started the classes just two months after leaving Tehran and arriving in Lethbridge, where she and her daughter moved in with Azar Afshar’s sister, who came to Lethbridge from Iran to attend university and ended up settling.

“My sister said ‘You can improve your English here’,” says Azar Afshar. “So I came to the college for my English lessons.”

Azar Afshar had trained and worked as a midwife in Iran, and delivered more than 100 babies before her daughter was born and she left her career. “It’s very nice to see babies born,” she says. “The smile of the mother. It’s very nice – very hopeful.”

Now in Canada, she would like to find work as a midwife, ideally, or any job in the nursing industry – and she is hopeful the ESL for Nursing program will lead to work down the road.

If recent trends are any indication, once Azar Afshar completes her language classes and sits for her licensing exams, she should have no trouble finding work. In 2007, Canada was short 11,000 full-time nurses to provide hands-on care to patients. If health-care needs mount following past trends, Canada will be short almost 60,000 full-time registered nurses by 2022, the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) reports.

“There are global shortages of nurses and all countries are competing for them,” says Gyslaine Desrosiers, president of the Quebec Order of Nurses, in a report for the Canadian Nurses Association.

The government has responded by making it easier for nurses trained in other countries to move to Canada. On July 1, 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada released a new list of occupations in demand in Canada and included registered nurses and licensed practical nurses on it. As a result, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism gives priority to applicants with work experience in one of these high demand occupations.

Philip Harttrup, director of the English Language Centre at Lethbridge College, says he hopes the ESL for Nursing program will help foreign-born nurses bring their English skills to the same level as their nursing skills. The goal is for the students to eventually be licensed in Canada and start filling nursing needs in rural communities, emergency rooms, hospitals and clinics around the country.

Like any specifically skilled profession, nursing has its own set of technical terms and jargon which require mastering if the practitioner is to achieve proficiency. What might be difficult even for Canadian-born students to master becomes more so for those whose first language is not English, Harttrup explains.

The Lethbridge College English Language Centre created the online version of ESL Nursing Pathways program to assist those of other tongues to achieve their goals in the profession. The Lethbridge College portion of the program, which is accessible anywhere in the world, contains four elements: reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Two other elements – medical terminology and crosscultural communication – are offered by NorQuest College in Edmonton in collaboration with Lethbridge College. The college has also laid the groundwork to eventually facilitate the program through eCampusAlberta.

This year, the program has attracted students from the Lethbridge area, the Philippines, and Peru. The online classes are offered in addition to traditional nursing training offered at all levels to students who come to the southern Alberta campus.

For more information on the ESL for Nursing program at Lethbridge College, contact Harttrup at the English Language Centre (esl@lethbridgecollege.ab.ca or 1.800.572.0103 X7223). 

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