Jamaican trained nurse practicing in Newfoundland is major nursing award winner

Jamaican trained nurse practicing in Newfoundland is major nursing award winner

July 8, 2019

She shed a lot of tears and there were times when registered nurse Novlette Delisser-Francis questioned her decision to leave Jamaica.

While internationally educated nurses are welcomed to this province, getting licensed by the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) could be quite a challenging process.

Despite having a Master’s degree and completed the National Council Licensure Examination, the CNO insisted that the highly experienced nurse do the Objective Structured Clinical Examination to demonstrate she met their required nursing competencies.

Delisser-Francis was also requested to write a language test even though English is her first language.

The almost two-and-a-half year wait to get the license was extremely frustrating.

“There were times when I felt boxed in and helpless in my apartment,” said this year’s Care Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses (IEN) Dr. Joan Lesmond Award winner. “Here I am qualified to work and I couldn’t. I went back to Jamaica on two occasions and it was my husband who convinced me to come back and stick it out. He told me things would work out. We also have a young son who was in Canada and I couldn’t rob him of that opportunity for a better life here.”

Referred by a friend to the Care Centre for IEN which helps practitioners achieve their registration and get started on their Canadian nursing career was like a breath of fresh air.

“I remember walking in there and asking for help,” said Delisser-Francis. “Being not a permanent resident at the time, they told me that I could come back as soon as my status changed.”

When that happened in 2014, she returned to the Care Centre that provides one-on-one case management, language and communication skills, exam preparation, professional development, mentoring and networking to be successful in the nursing profession.

While in the program, Delisser-Francis met two nurses from Newfoundland who encouraged her to apply for a license in that province.

With fewer licensed practical nurses coming out of the College of the North Atlantic, there was a shortage in central Newfoundland at the time and Eastern Health turned to Jamaican nurses so more beds could be added to the long-term care facility.

“As part of the process to practice there, I had to do a bridging program,” said Delisser-Francis. “As I was on the verge on completing that, I got the call from the CNO saying I was licensed to practice in Ontario.”

She was familiar with Newfoundland through the Eastern Health-operated Centre of Nursing Studies that worked with two Jamaican publicly funded colleges – Brown’s Town and Knox -- and the Jamaica government to deliver the program.

To train Jamaican nurses, the community colleges used the same curriculum, course materials, common testing and evaluation as that offered in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As a program lecturer at Brown’s Town, Delisser-Francis was honoured with a Leadership Award that offered her the opportunity to spend two weeks in Newfoundland in November 2010.

“It was cold, but the province is beautiful and I found the people to be very friendly and warm,” she said.

Choosing to practice in Newfoundland instead of Ontario was easy for Delisser-Francis who started working in the province in September 2015.

“Eastern Health gave me an opportunity to nurse again,” she said. “They took a chance on me and I am indebted to them.”

Raised in rural Brown’s Town in St. Ann parish by her paternal grandmother Ethel Maud McGhie, Delisser-Francis was turned on to nursing at a young age when caregivers came to their home to assist the elderly woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“When I saw the compassion they showed and the time they took to take care of her, I said that is what I wanted to do,” she said.

McGhie passed away in 1988 just as her grand-daughter was completing Grade 12.

Imogene Biggs, a community resident, stepped in and opened her home to Delisser-Francis.

“This was a church lady and total stranger who gave me another chance,” she said. “I must admit that I was a bit troublesome back then. Every day, I thank God for the role she and my grandmother played in my life. The Dr. Joan Lesmond Award is for them.”

Unable to attend her high school graduation because of a lack of funds, Delisser-Francis worked as a ward assistant at University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) before entering the registered nursing program. She stayed on at UHWI for a few more years prior to joining May Pen Hospital in Clarendon where she spent two years in the emergency unit.

Graduating with a Nursing Education degree from the University of the West Indies in 2002, she joined the St. Ann’s Bay Hospital Staff and taught nursing at Brown’s Town College.

“I needed a Master’s to teach the undergrad program, so I went and got my graduate degree and then continued teaching at Brown’s Town in the areas of medical surgery emergency nursing and pharmacology for another five years,” Delisser-Francis pointed out.

Novlette Delisser-Francis

Novlette Delisser-Francis

In 2012, she came to Toronto with her husband and son and spent three years in North York before securing a job in Newfoundland.

Michelle Gordon, a Case Manager with the Care Centre for IEN, nominated Delisser-Francis for the award.

“When we met, Novlette presented as well educated and she had many years of work experience under her belt,” said Gordon. “While frustrated with the many challenges she faced, she was undaunted and successfully completed all the assessments she was asked to do. In the five years I have known her, she has impressed me with her tenacity and passion for nursing.”

The Dr. Joan Lesmond IEN of the Year Award was established eight years ago.

Migrating from St. Lucia in 1970 and the only Black health care worker to be recognized in 2008 with a Canadian Nursing Association centennial award honouring Canada’s Top 100 registered nurses, Lesmond died in the summer of 2011, just four months after being diagnosed with cancer. She was 59.

Prior to becoming ill, she was Executive Director of Community Engagement at St. Elizabeth Health Care Foundation where she successfully forged community partnerships and engagements in the areas of service delivery, international consulting and the chronic disease self-management program.

Lesmond held several high profile positions in the health care industry, ranging from frontline nursing practice to progressive management and senior leadership roles.

As Chair of the Ontario Caregiver Coalition, she challenged the disproportionate burden of care on women and as President of the Association of Ontario Health Centres, she ensured the examination of social determinants of health and promoted the importance of anti-oppression frameworks. And as an educator at Ryerson University, she taught students the equal importance of quality of care, ethics and community engagement.

With the face of AIDS evolving over the years, Lesmond – as Chief Nursing Executive and Director of Professional Practice – led the re-design of Casey House’s  ‘Model of Care’ to be more supportive and responsive to women from diverse communities and she often offered indispensable support to Black women afflicted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

She also volunteered in South Africa with women and girls living with HIV/AIDS and became active in policy development for the South African Network of Nurses and Midwives which was launched in May 2001.

A past President of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), Chair of Regent Park Community Health Centre, Director of Women’s College Hospital and the Hospital Association of Ontario, a founding board member of Hospice Palliative Care Ontario and a Health Force Ontario board member, Lesmond held a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing, a Master’s in Community Health and a PhD. in Health Policy and Health Education with a focus on cultural competency in marginalized communities.

The RNAO president for two years up until April 2006 also instructed baccalaureate students at Ryerson University and mentored staff at Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Clinic that provides primary health care to Black and other visible minority women.

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