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St. Michael's leads in workplace diversity

St. Michael's Hospital has led a number of innovative programs that reduce barriers and promote access for skilled immigrants and foreign-trained professionals.

Toronto, June 3, 2008

As reported on diversityintheworkplace.ca

Vice President of Human Resources, Sylvia HallidayTo say St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto wrote the book on mentoring internationally trained professionals is no exaggeration. It's a statement of fact. When Sylvia Halliday, vice president of human resources, says, "We've been successful in tapping the internationally trained professional market," that's an understatement.

St. Michael's journey towards the prestigious national award for its work with new Canadians started in 2000 when the hospital joined forces with the Regent Park Community Health Centre and developed a pilot program around mentoring foreign-trained professionals not just because they were situated in Canada's most diverse city but also because it would be unrealistic not to do it.

"This is a reality of our world," Halliday says. "It is a reality that we must hire immigrants. They are our workforce. And so you find ways to make that a positive experience for the organization and a positive experience for skilled immigrants."

By all accounts, the hospital has not only found the way, but is leading the way in "finding positive ways to appreciate differences in the workplace." A huge undertaking when you're dealing with a workforce that tops 6,000. But when St. Michael’s undertook that pilot project eight years ago, hospital employees voluntarily agreed to meet and work as mentors with foreign professionals. The result was a book, Making Connections: A New Model of Mentoring Internationally Trained Professionals, which is now distributed to other organizations looking to set up a similar program.

The success rate of its mentorship initiative has been phenomenal: more than 70 percent of those mentored gained fulltime employment, further education or a more defined career path. Halliday calls this, "tremendously rewarding."

St. Michael's foray into this world didn’t stop there. It also founded another program, The CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses. The CARE Centre helps nurses from other countries gain the knowledge and experience they need through mentoring and job-shadowing.

"As a result, the success ratio for people writing exams (at the College of Nurses of Ontario) has increased enormously," Halliday says.

The CARE Centre now has two offices—in Toronto and Hamilton.

St. Michael's also offers paid internships at the hospital through Career Bridge, a program that aims to reduce those barriers to employment faced by internationally qualified professionals looking for work in Canada.

"Language barriers continue to be an issue, although not as much as you might think," Halliday explains. "The people that we're dealing with, they're professionals. So it's nuance more than English language skills, if you like."

All its hard work in this field hasn't gone unnoticed. St. Michael's has been recognized as one the Best Employers for New Canadians on the list of Canada's Top 100 Employers—the only hospital in Ontario to receive such an honour. But Halliday is quick to point out that St. Michael's Hospital is in it for more than the recognition.

"It's not altruism. It's not all about our needs as an organization," she explains. "It's also because we are a health organization. It’s also very good for our catchment area and the population we serve because one of the key determinants of health is income level. So it’s been a win-win situation for us all around."