Support Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) in Canada to Move Forward: CELBAN & IELTS
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Petition to support Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) to proceed with licensure in Canada. June 15, 2019
Please note: These views are my own and are not affiliated with any professional organization or educational institute.
Communication is an integral part of nursing, and Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) understandably require a reasonable level of English proficiency in order to practice in Canada. Most provinces in Canada require a passing score in either the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam (Academic) or the Canadian English Language Benchmark for Nurses (CELBAN) exam before the IENs can begin the licensing process.
Both exams assess the receptive skills of Reading and Listening and the productive skills of Writing and Speaking. There are differences in the marking criteria and approach. For example, in order for an IEN to pass the IELTS exam and move forward with licensing, an overall band score of 7 must be achieved, with Listening 7.5 and only Reading is permitted to be 6.5. Similarly, for an IEN to pass the CELBAN exam, scores of Reading 8, Listening 10, Writing 7, and Speaking 8 are required.
A score of 7 in IELTS Academic Writing and a score of 10 in the revised CELBAN Listening are extremely difficult to achieve. Indeed, a recent study in the UK showed that, on average, native English speakers would only receive 6.3 on the IELTS Academic Writing test.1 Since these changes, the passing rate for both English exams has been abysmal.
The required scores pose a major obstacle for IENs to proceed with the licensing process. In October 2018 the difficulty of the CELBAN Listening test was intensified, and fewer IENs have been passing the exam. This has had a negative impact on the healthcare system in Canada, particularly in northern and remote communities where qualified nurses are most needed.
The worldwide nursing shortage has led to understaffing and more overtime, as well as increased difficulty with recruitment, retention and morale of nursing staff. The CELBAN and IELTS passing scores simply perpetuate the healthcare staffing crisis which, in turn, impacts patient and staff safety and quality of care.
The CELBAN and IELTS exams do not reflect mastery of language, and other approaches should be considered. Qualified IENs with a Bachelor, Master or even PhD degree from their home countries are being relegated to working as healthcare assistants and support workers for lower wages. These competent IENs often have years of working experience in the healthcare sector.
The United Kingdom (UK) raised the IELTS score in 2016 from 6.5 to 7, and in December of 2018 switched it back to 6.5 because, “During this time, the number of European Union/European Economic Area staff registering to the Nursing Midwifery Council (NMC) had gone down by 96% (from1304 to 46 applications) by June 2017 from its peak in July 2016. We believe, and from feedback on the ground from nurses who want to work in the UK or are already practicing in the UK - the language requirement remains a significant barrier to registering with the NMC.”2. This sets a precedent for Canada to follow suit.
Furthermore, it is also worthwhile to emphasize that the cost of taking a CELBAN or IELTS exam is between $300 and $400. Anecdotal evidence indicates that many IENs take the exam more than 3 times. The human cost, as well as the financial burden of language courses, time off from work, daycare expenses, and study time is excessive. We are losing many fully-trained, prospective nurses; they need to support their families and can no longer afford the time, energy, money, and heartbreak to pursue their dream of becoming a practical or registered nurse in Canada.
Considering these facts, we hereby petition for consideration of the following suggestions:
1. Reducing the Academic IELTS score for Internationally Educated Nurses back to a 6.5 score in the Writing section alongside a 7.0 score in each of the Reading, Listening and Speaking sections.
2. Reducing the CELBAN Listening score for Internationally Educated Nurses to 9.
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