John Mark Mabilog is pictured with other nursing students at Aurora College in May 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
John Mark Mabilog just wants to start working already.
He has completed both a four-year nursing program at Yellowknife’s Aurora College and a 16-week placement in acute care at the city’s hospital.
This was supposed to be the time to get his career under way.
Now, Mabilog is entering the workforce mid-pandemic and the exam to obtain his nursing licence has been delayed by a month and a half, leaving him uncertain about his future.
If he isn’t able to work soon, he’s worried it might lead to financial difficulty.
“For me, I just want it to be over,” Mabilog said.
“Most of us have been seriously preparing for this exam since the beginning of the year, and to wait for several months creates a great deal of anxiety.”
The exam is known as the National Council Licensure Examination, or the NCLEX.
Each June and October, the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut works with Pearson Vue – a company that administers the NCLEX – to create temporary testing centres in the North.
According to Denise Bowen, the nurses’ association’s executive director, these testing centres won’t be coming to the North until July due to concerns about Covid-19.
Bowen said many factors went into Pearson Vue’s decision.
“How are they going to ensure … that they’re keeping the graduates, keeping their staff safe, cleaning, social distancing,” she said. “All of that has to [be] taken into consideration.”
Trip to Alberta unappealing
As an alternative, the association is issuing temporary licences to new nurses – but they can’t work without the supervision of a registered nurse.
Mabilog points out this means some job opportunities are only casual. He’s anxious about the lack of security offered by those positions.
“And on top of that, we’re also studying, preparing for NCLEX, right?” he said.
Permanent testing centres farther south, in cities such as Calgary and Edmonton, have found workarounds, and are still offering the NCLEX.
If they don’t want to wait, Bowen said, graduates have the option to travel and write their exams in one of those centres.
But some students might not have the resources to pay for the trip, Mabilog said.
What’s more, travelling outside the territory means they would have to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return under current NWT pandemic restrictions.
Tracey Foster-DeBaie is another nursing graduate from Aurora College. She holds a casual position in Behchokò and has obtained a temporary licence from the nurses’ association.
Self-isolation after travel could mean she is taken off the front lines, she said.
“It’s going to be hard to tell my employer, ‘Well, I can’t work for two weeks in the middle of this pandemic because I now have to self-isolate and self-monitor,’ or whatever that’s going to look like,” she said.
‘We will be a great addition’
For the time being, Foster-DeBaie is waiting for the exam to come to her. There are cases of Covid-19 in Alberta, where the closest testing centres are, and there are no active cases in the NWT.
While she would prefer to write the NCLEX sooner, Foster-DeBaie doesn’t want to put her partner and young son in danger by travelling.
Bowen understands the graduates’ concerns. After four years of school and hard work, it’s natural to want to get started as soon as possible – especially if it means more help on the front lines.
But at the end of the day, she said, it’s about health first.
“I think these are very unprecedented times,” Bowen said. “And in times like this, you have to keep in mind the safety of everyone.
“There are rules in place, and they’re in place because they are keeping us safe.”
Foster-DeBaie and Mabilog said Bowen’s association had been working hard to get testing centres set up as soon as possible. They said they were thankful the association was fighting on their behalf, even if their career plans have hit a snag.
For a while, testing dates were up in the air. New Northern nurses didn’t have a clear idea of when they’d be able to write the NCLEX exam.
Now, both Foster-DeBaie and Mabilog said they are at least glad to know they’ll be writing in July – although Bowen clarified that this is still tentative.
“I think we will be a great addition to the team here in the NWT,” said Mabilog of his graduating class. “Our training [and] education is unique to the North, and culturally and fiscally appropriate.
“So, hopefully, the government … would considering hiring us [before] people from outside the NWT.”