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African nurses further their careers at regional hospitals

Last February, during a snowstorm, a group of 17 nursing students arrived in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield from various African countries. They were about to begin refresher courses as part of a pilot project between the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration, the Cégep de Valleyfield, and the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de la Montérégie-Ouest (CISSSMO).

In December, this first cohort completed their attestation d’études collégiales (AEC) in the nursing program at the Cégep. As of January 29, the students officially began working as candidates to the nursing profession with the CISSSMO, while they prepare to obtain their nursing licences by passing the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec (OIIQ) exam.

Two of the graduates were awarded bursaries for their academic performance and perseverance from the Cégep de Valleyfield and the Hôpital du Suroît Foundations.

Diane Songwa, who received one of the bursaries, says this past year has been one of adaptation. From her first introduction to winter weather to the stark differences between the expectations of nurses in Quebec compared to her home country of Cameroon, she has been learning how to manage the culture shock.

The 32-year-old admits that when she first came across an advertisement for the program, she didn’t think it was real. She was studying in Belgium at the time, and decided there was no harm in sending an application since there was no requirement to pay anything up front. She laughs, saying she only began to believe in the program when she started receiving communications about language proficiency tests and immigration documents.

 

Diane Songwa received a bursary while studying nursing at the Cégep de Valleyfield from nursing instructor Héléna Montpetit and Yves Trottier the executive director of the Fondation du Cégep de Valleyfield PHOTO CISSSMO

 

Songwa lived in the dormitory at the Cégep for several months after her arrival and worked three days a week as an orderly at the Suroît hospital while attending classes to familiarize herself with the Quebec healthcare system and hospital environment. She says she received a warm reception from officials at the Cégep and the CISSSMO, who were eager to help with everything from grocery shopping to finding more permanent housing.

Now living within walking distance to the hospital where she works full time, Songwa says she appreciated the classes and felt well prepared while transitioning from classroom simulations to real-life hospital situations.

She says the importance of caring for patients doesn’t change between countries, but the technology and the materials available to Quebec practitioners “is a big plus we don’t have [in Cameroon]. “The nurses are more autonomous and have more responsibility than in my country,” she notes, suggesting nurses here are responsible for much more than administering medications. “The profession is a bit more restrained back home,” she adds, explaining that in Cameroon, the role of a nurse is to support the doctor.

Songwa says she is looking forward to remaining in Quebec and following this next step in her career, though she admits Quebec’s infamous nursing exam has her feeling more than a little stressed. “It is a new challenge, and I am excited!” she exclaims.

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