Over the past few months, I’ve been in contact with a lot of other travel nurses via social media, and most of them are from the US! It’s been really cool comparing the differences between travel nursing in Canada vs. the United States, so I figured maybe other people would be interested in it too!
The Healthcare System
I guess one of the biggest differences is the healthcare system itself. Here in Canada, we have universal health care. We have a provincial health card and can go to any clinic or hospital, and by presenting this card, we are provided with all health care services. FOR FREE. We do not get billed for any hospital stay, necessary surgery, or products that are used while admitted. To have a baby, we don’t have to pay. If you have an elective surgery, such as most plastic surgeries, you do have to pay. We pay for prescriptions from pharmacies, dental and eye care, and things like that, but if you have insurance or a benefits package, most of these things are covered. So basically, I can go to any hospital in the country and get care for whatever I need, and the government funds it. Sure, we may pay more taxes than Americans, but I’m not going to get into all of that.
Now let’s move on to the nursing aspect of it. Similar to US state-to-state licensing, Canadian nurses have to apply for licensing in each separate province. If you want to work in British Columbia, you have to pay for and apply for licensing with them, and you cannot work in any other province. I know this is similar to the US except for compact state licensing. Some states will let you work in them if you have a compact license from one of the other states.
Here we have to go through the entire process for each separate province which can be expensive if you have more than one. I currently have an Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia license, and the fees differ throughout the country. In Ontario, it’s only around $300 a year to renew. In Alberta and BC, it cost me about $800 to complete the licensing. That’s also not including the fees for criminal record checks etc.
Nurses in Canada write the NCLEX as well. This started in 2015, the year before I graduated, and now we can go to any province or state, and we don’t have to write any extra exams! We write the American-based exam, and they provide us with the Canadian lab values. There are a couple of things that are on the exam that are a bit foreign to us, but we just make sure we review this while studying!
Hierarchy of Nursing in Canada
For example, the hierarchy of nursing is a little different up here. We have Registered Nurses (RNs), Registered/Licensed Practical Nurses (RPNs/LPNs), and Personal Support Workers (PSWs)/ Health Care Aids (HCAs). The scope of practice for RNs is wide-we can do everything, and if we can’t, a doctor would be the next step up. We go to university for 4 years and get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. In some provinces, laws were recently passed so RNs can actually prescribe medications. RPNs or LPNs have a smaller scope of practice which differs from province to province. They go to a college or technical college for usually only two years.
In Ontario, where I’m from, they can do everything except have patients with central lines, epidurals, telemetry, or if they are a very unstable patient, but this does differ from facility to facility. In Alberta, where I recently worked, it was similar, but LPNs couldn’t spike bags of blood for transfusions or bladder scan patients, for example. It depends on each provinces’ governing body of nurses and their regulations. As a travel nurse, make sure you know the scope of practice for the province you’re working in! We have PSWs who mostly work in long-term care. In Alberta, there were HCAs who would help with washes, transfers, stocking carts, etc.
The hospital where I work back home in Ontario does not have health care aids to do this. We do everything- vitals, feeding, brief changes, answering call bells, mobilizing patients and transfers, blood sugars, processing orders, all medications, everything! I wish we had CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) to help us with the workload, but we are not given that opportunity. Some hospitals across Canada do have PSWs, so maybe it’s just where I live that we have to work harder! As I continue to work in other provinces, I am seeing how other provinces do things, and that is one of my favorite parts of travel nursing.
One big difference that I have noticed about travel nursing in Canada is that we do much shorter contracts. In the US, the standard is 13-week contracts. Here in Canada, we can do much shorter contracts. I’ve done 5, 6, and 8-week contracts so far. I know people who have even done 2-week contracts! I guess this is much easier for us to do because we do not have to find our own housing.
Housing is provided for us on each assignment, even if it means living in a hotel during our contract. All of our travel costs to and from the assignment location are covered as well! I’m sure you could request a housing stipend if you wanted to find your own housing, but I don’t really feel like that is necessary. I’ve stayed in a house with 6 other travel nurses and in a house with a couple that rents out rooms. My next contract, the hospital uses college dorm rooms to house their travel nurses! It’s whatever the hospital decides.
One other big difference that I have noticed is the abundance of agencies and recruiters in the States. We have two in Canada- Solutions Staffing and Select Medical Connections. If there are others, I have never heard of them (sorry)! I am employed by both agencies, and there are plenty of contracts with both, mostly critical care nursing. In the states, the amount of agencies is overwhelming. I have no idea where I would even start to choose one!
The wages for travel nurses average around $45-55 an hour. The more isolated the community, the more you make. It can also increase if you have a specialty and more experience. In Ontario, staff nurses start at around $31 an hour. And increase with years of experience, so the increase in pay is well worth it to become a travel nurse!
Have you ever thought of travel nursing in Canada!? If you have questions or comments, I would love to hear from you! Message me on Instagram @thetalesof.hales.