Internships help St. Michael’s reflect diverse patient population

Shannon Klie

With Canadian demographics becoming more diverse and looming baby boomer retirements, the health-care field needs to look beyond traditional pools of talent, according to John King, the executive vice-president and chief administrative officer at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

“The future of Canadian health care really rests with internationally trained professionals,” he said.

The hospital – which serves a diverse patient group in downtown Toronto including new Canadians and people living in poverty – partnered with Career Bridge in 2004 to provide internships to internationally educated professionals (IEPs).

Career Bridge is run by Career Edge, a non-profit organization that offers internship programs.

“Our inner-city health program at St. Mike’s, which really deals with a diverse population group, found it would be useful for us as an organization to also have diversity in our employees,” said King.

Initially, King set up the program to provide new Canadians with four to six months of Canadian work experience so they could go on and find permanent jobs, be they at St. Michael’s or elsewhere. But, in the end, the hospital hired many of the interns.

“(The program) has moved from providing Canadian experience to almost a recruitment strategy,” said King.

The interns are non-clinical staff, many in information technology, public relations and finance with an MBA or engineering background, he said.

“They are highly skilled and highly trained,” he said.

Richard Ballesteros is one such intern. An engineer from the Philippines, he worked as a project manager for the hospital’s Clean Room Project, applying his knowledge of Lean Six Sigma process improvement methodology to inventory management in the hospital’s clean rooms (where sterile equipment is stored) and dirty utility rooms (where equipment is decontaminated).

Ballesteros was instrumental in helping the hospital save thousands of dollars in inventory and improving the efficiency of health-care staff, said King.

The Career Bridge internships are part of a broader hospital program to provide work experience to professionals starting out in their careers, he said. But many Canadian graduates are reluctant to take the lower-paid internships, believing their schooling has adequately trained them for jobs.

“Foreign-trained professionals are looking at these internships as great opportunities,” said King. “We basically get a highly skilled individual, who we can basically give an opportunity to to show us their skills. In the end, it’s a win-win for both of us.”

Many new Canadians have problems with credential recognition, which has contributed to lower employment levels despite a higher proportion of immigrants having a university degree (42 per cent) compared to their Canadian-born counterparts (16 per cent), according to Statistics Canada.

And just 24 per cent of immigrants who studied abroad in a field that would lead to a regulated occupation, such as medicine, law or education, actually worked in that occupation, compared to 53 per cent of immigrants who studied in Canada and 62 per cent of Canadian-born and trained individuals.

Career Bridge in Toronto evaluates foreign credentials and experience for participating employers and matches IEPs with appropriate internships, said King.

Each intern brought on board at St. Michael’s is matched with a mentor and monitored by the hospital’s IEP co-ordinator, who also provides coaching and support, he said. There is also a formal networking group for interns and alumni of the program currently working at the hospital.

The hospital also provides workshops for the interns on how to advance their careers and diversity workshops for all staff on working with and appreciating cultural differences, said King.

While supporting the Career Bridge interns is important, the hospital also wants to ensure they have an authentic Canadian work experience, he said.

“They have the same orientation, same opportunities that a Canadian would, so that helps them become more familiar with the Canadian environment,” said King.

St. Michael’s is also helping internationally educated nurses integrate into the Canadian workplace through the CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses.

The centre helps nurses from other countries gain the knowledge and experience they need to pass the College of Nurses of Ontario examination. St. Michael’s provides mentoring, job shadowing and work-related learning experience as well as jobs once the nurses pass the exam.

The Career Bridge program has been very successful, with 33 interns over the past six years, 12 of whom were hired on after their internships.

“We have been totally overwhelmed by how well this has worked out and added to and supported our culture,” said King.

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Reference: Canadian HR Reporter