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  • 10 May 2024
  • 5 min read

Why I emigrated from the UK to Canada as a nurse

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  • Audrey Barnwell
    Clinical Educator for PICU, British Columbia Children's Hospital
BC Health careers have been at events around the UK this week meeting people like you who might be interested in working in Canada.

Build your career, expand your nursing skills and embrace an ambitious adventure in British Columbia, Canada. BC Health Careers is running a webinar on 16th May 2024 at 6pm so you can ask questions and find out more. If you’ve ever thought about what life would be like if you took your nursing career overseas to Canada, then you’ll naturally have questions about how you would do this, and what your work and home life would be like if you did. The BC Health Careers team can answer all of these questions, and more.

Register here for the webinar.

Audrey's story - from London NHS nurse to living and working in Canada

Audrey moved to Canada for a different life and found it in Vancouver. Sea, mountains and an outdoor life on Canada’s west coast - plus better nursing pay and patient-to-staff ratios.

I left the UK and my job as a paediatric nurse for the NHS for the west coast of Canada many years ago. I was looking for a change, a better nursing career, and a safer living environment. I found it here in Vancouver and have never looked back. Here is my story, why I would recommend other UK nurses think about following in my footsteps, and what you need to know if you’re thinking about emigrating to Canada as a nurse from the UK.

My nursing career started in 1997. I was working for British Rail and one day thought to myself, why am I doing this? This is not what I actually wanted to do. I want to be a paediatric nurse. I always knew I had wanted to work as a nurse or paediatric doctor. I applied for different nursing schools and got into King’s College London.

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My first move to Canada

I’m a naturally curious person and the ICU nurses would come into our ward and pick up the kids and they would say some strange things that I didn't understand, but I wanted to know. But, first of all, I wanted to do some travel nursing before moving to ICU. So I applied to this hospital for sick children in Toronto in Canada and I went there for a couple of years, two years. I spent time in the emergency department. I met my husband there before we returned home to London.

After 4 years, we decided to leave for Canada again

On my return from my two years in Toronto I worked between the emergency and paediatric departments at Saint Mary’s in Paddington. I spent about four years there in total in between the emergency and PICU.

But things were tough in the NHS. The work was heavy. We had staff shortages. And outside of work there were moments I wasn’t feeling very safe going home - early in the morning, or late at night.

So, that’s when my husband suggested the west coast of Canada. I had already received my permanent Canadian residency when I was in Toronto. And so I took that and we went to Vancouver in Canada. I applied directly to the British Columbia Children's Hospital in Vancouver, and they contacted me and said ‘OK, you're already a paediatric ICU nurse, you can come directly to our paediatric ICU!’

things were tough in the NHS. The work was heavy. We had staff shortages. And outside of work there were moments I wasn’t feeling very safe

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My career journey as a nurse in Canada

My main job as a nurse in Canada has always been with British Columbia Children's Hospital. I moved from a general duty nurse up into a leadership position as one of the clinical educators within the paediatric intensive care unit.

I am now one of the senior leaders of education for critically ill children. And so I go around the province teaching other areas how to care for critically ill children. I have also taken some small teaching roles for the University of British Columbia, UBC, in Vancouver. And I also did a small teaching role with the British Columbia Institute of Technology. And all of those roles were teaching nurses how to care for paediatric children.

How I jumped through the hoops required to emigrate to Canada

Get a Canadian work permit

With the job I was offered in Toronto I had a work permit. Every six months I had to renew it.

Register for our webinar on Thursday 16th May to ask questions and find out more.

Apply for Canadian residency

I realised that instead of having to go through this every six months, I could apply for a permanent residency. I qualified for it because I had stayed there long enough to apply for permanent residency.

Apply for Canadian citizenship

After applying for residency and receiving it I came back to England. This meant, when we decided to move to Vancouver, I already had permanent residency, which allowed me to enter the country. I had to then be present in Canada for five years straight and continuously before applying for my Canadian citizenship. I took the exam and I am now a Canadian citizen.

Canadian residency makes life so much easier because I no longer need to have to produce any papers etc

Canada allows you to be a dual citizen, so I'm allowed to keep my British citizenship with my Canadian citizenship. That makes life so much easier because I no longer need to have to produce any papers to say I’m a permanent resident - you know, how long, when does it expire etc.

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What your first step should be if you want to work in Canada

Your first step should be to get a job with an employer.

That gives you a work visa. When I got mine it was for 6 months. But they’ve made it much easier for healthcare professionals to get a work permit and it’s for much longer now than mine was in 2002.

I would then recommend to anyone that comes to apply for a permanent residency card. You have to be in the country for so many days, up to about five years. You can then apply for your citizenship.

The process is much better now, much faster to apply.

What I love about my job

One of the things about me is that I connect with most of the people within the hospital. I always look to build relationships so that, you know, I feel like if you build a good relationship with staff, you have a much better working environment because it becomes positive as well.

I’m always on the go and happy and trying to help staff get through their days, even if it’s a busy day.

We have different outlets so that staff can talk about things that are affecting them, so they can connect with the team of educators. Then we have the operational leads or clinical nurse coordinators, even our programme manager - we all operate with an open door policy so that people feel that they can walk in and speak about any issues that they have.

It tends to be very respectful of each other here. We discuss certain patients and things we could have done better or things that didn't go so well.

I’ve had many opportunities and in my current role I’ve travelled - we just visited Vancouver Island, travelling to Nanaimo, Prince George’s in the Northern Health region, Fraser Health.

How does nursing in Canada compare to the NHS?

In BC we have more resources. Now in my department, which is different from England, we have respiratory therapists care and help us care for patients who were intubated and ventilated. And so at first when I got there, I was like, “oh, I don't have to do all of this!”

We try to do one-to-one nursing and I know the Government are working on a proposal mandating that nurses work with a smaller number of patients.

Register for our webinar on Thursday 16th May to ask questions and find out more.

My pay is double what I would be earning in the UK

When I was nursing in England, I was earning a salary of around £22,000. It meant things were always challenging financially, in terms of savings and holidays, with not much left over at the end of every month.

When I moved to BC I instantly saw an uplift in my financial situation, and was earning nearly 50% more overnight.

Since then, I’ve been lucky to have been in a healthcare system that allows for quick career progression, and my salary today is double what it would have been had I stayed in the UK.

Why British Columbia is a great place to live

When I was reading about BC before I moved they promoted safety on the streets and the work life balance that I was chasing. All those things attracted me.

I was looking at BC and thinking, this looks like a really good place and it looks so beautiful. And it was even more beautiful when I arrived!

What's fascinating about BC is as you're driving to work, you can see the mountains because the mountains are right there and it's just so beautiful. It just makes you feel really good going into work. And while you're at work you just look out the window and you can see the mountains. So that's really one of the appealing things for me.

Do it. It's great. I feel like people should try living somewhere else. You get to learn a lot about yourself, like how you handle change. The lifestyle was so different . I had never been such an outdoor sports person until I got to BC

We bike a lot. And there's so many trails. There's the beaches, you can go and hang out. There are many, many pools open to swimming. We have lots of community centres and they're not very expensive.

My friends do paddle boarding and we go to Deep Cove to kayak, and I’ve gone to Whistler for skiing. There’s lots of outdoor sports that you can do.

Squamish is a very popular site to go to and there are lots of lakes that are beautiful for paddle boarding. Tofino is a popular surfing area. We have a social group so that people can get together and do things outside of work.

Meet Audrey and find out how you can build your nursing career in Canada

If you’re interested in following in Audrey's footsteps you can MEET her at one of the BC Health Careers UK roadshow events.

It starts Saturday 11th May in London at the Park Plaza Victoria hotel, before moving to Belfast, Manchester, and Glasgow.

Register for our webinar on Thursday 16th May to ask questions and find out more..

Those that can’t make a physical event can join an online webinar next Thursday 15th May at 6pm.

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  • Audrey Barnwell
    Clinical Educator for PICU, British Columbia Children's Hospital

About the author

  • Audrey Barnwell
    Clinical Educator for PICU, British Columbia Children's Hospital

I work in Vancouver for British Columbia Children's Hospital having moved to Canada from the UK where I had worked as a Paediatric nurse for the NHS. I’m one of the senior leaders of education for care for critically ill children. I also travel around the province teaching other areas how to care for critically ill children.


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