English-speaking nurse says Quebec more focused on culture than workforce

“They'd be more comfortable seeing us walk away," says Melissa Lim, about the mandatory French language exam, required for all nurses coming into Quebec to become licensed in the province. Felisha Adam reports.

With Quebec’s French-language reform bill — Bill 96 — top of mind for many right now, some people are sharing their stories of challenges faced as English speakers in the province.

Melissa Lim, a nurse who moved from B.C. to the province five years ago, is one of them. She has only recently been able to say she is a certified nurse in Quebec after facing difficulties with a French-language exam she needed to be able to permanently practice in the province.

“To have us stuck in the system of needing to learn French to the level that they required seemed quite an impossibility when we’re required to work so many hours,” explained Lim.

“There’s no shortage of job postings whatsoever. And even as someone who’s new to the system, there’s regular call-outs, like even over the weekend … even with the lack of skills. They’re just always desperate for more nurses everywhere.”


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Melissa Lim

Melissa Lim – Registered Nurse. (Photo: CityNews)

Nurses entering the province have only four years to pass a French-language exam. They are given a temporary license and after the four years, if they do not pass the exam, they will not be able to become a licenced nurse in Quebec. Lim says that is challenging.

“It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen when you’re exhausted, if you’ve been working a lot, or if you have a family to manage.”

In order to pass the exam, Lim left her job and all-volunteer responsibilities. With the support of her family, she was able to focus for a year on studying French. It was on her third try that she passed the exam, but Lim says not everyone is so lucky.

French-language program

Quebec nurse French-language program. (Photo: CityNews)

“I have someone that I know right now who is really under quite a bit of pressure to get this done,” she explained. “Now, in the next six months, if not her immigration status is threatened, or the fact that she will never be able to obtain a nursing license here will fall through, which is really unfortunate because she’s beautifully qualified. It’s just given her family situation, she doesn’t have the ability to maybe focus and learn French as quickly as I did.”

Those who do not pass the exam are forced to do another job or leave the province to practice elsewhere.

French-language work

French-language work. (Photo: CityNews)

“It feels that there is more of a worry to hold on to the culture and language in this province. There’s no equivalent worry about losing talent, about losing qualified workers, about losing people that have passion and heart and skill,” said Lim.

With staffing challenges in the health-care system amid the ongoing pandemic, Lim says it’s not about eliminating the French language exam but adding some leniency to make up for the shortage.

“What’s happening is we’re being pushed away out of the system that tells us that we’re not good enough, we’re not qualified enough, that they’d be more comfortable seeing us walk away and work elsewhere than to then to lose their language and their culture.”

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