Profile 2 of 2: co-winner of the Joan Lesmond IEN of the Year award
By: Laura Eggertson
April 11, 2022
When Sangeeta Maharjan began the process of having her international nursing credentials recognized in Canada, she never imagined that an earthquake in her home country of Nepal would be among the obstacles.
Maharjan, 33, is the co-winner of the Care Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses’ Joan Lesmond IEN of the Year award.
Before she arrived in Toronto in 2015, Maharjan had earned a bachelor of nursing degree from Purbanchal University and spent six years as an emergency nurse at a private hospital in the Kathmandu Valley.
She had emigrated to Canada to join her husband, Deven, who sponsored her after his own decision to remain in Canada after graduating from York University in computer science.
Because of her husband’s sponsorship, Maharjan learned most of what she needed to know about the accreditation process and the scope of registered nursing practice in Canada after arriving here rather than beginning it before she left Nepal.
Some of that information was daunting.
“Discouraging stories from other IENs about discontinuing the registration process and giving up their nursing careers frightened me, but I took that fear to build up my confidence,” Maharjan says.
‘I took that fear to build up my confidence’
“I was straightforward, determined and committed to fulfilling the [College of Nursing of Ontario]’s requirements and worked diligently and faithfully to get my nursing licence.”
But fulfilling those requirements required getting Maharjan’s paperwork from Nepal, and earthquakes that took more than 9,000 lives in April and May of 2015 made that process difficult.
The earthquakes also took an emotional toll as Maharjan and her husband worried about family members in Nepal. Fortunately, although her husband’s grandparents’ home was damaged, none of their close relatives were killed.
Communications and infrastructure in Nepal were decimated, however, and thousands were displaced. So, while arranging for the arrival of her paperwork, Maharjan worked part time at a Tim Hortons, took preparatory courses at George Brown College and volunteered at Providence Healthcare, helping residents of the long-term care home at mealtimes.
Then she waited anxiously for the College of Nurses of Ontario to determine if she met the college’s educational requirements.
Once her paperwork arrived, Maharjan took a qualifying exam through the Internationally Educated Nurses Competency Assessment Program. Three months after passing the program, she took the NCLEX-RN exam and passed.
Maharjan was finally qualified as a registered nurse in Ontario in 2018, three years after she came to Canada. The same year, she started work as a visiting nurse with VHA Home HealthCare.
For the shy nurse, who was still learning her way around Toronto and the Canadian health-care system, going into clients’ homes to administer medication, provide wound care and set up intravenous drips was challenging.
“Since I came to Canada, I had never been in anyone (else’s) house,” she says. “I had a very small friend circle within my community. Going to do something in somebody else’s house — that made me nervous. But eventually I built up that confidence, talking to people and meeting new people every day.”
Her preceptorship with a nurse mentor helped enormously, Maharjan says.
During her first year of practice with VHA, Maharjan helped set up and run the Home2Day project, a collaborative clinic with the Michael Garron Hospital and WoodGreen Community Services. Maharjan and other nurses visit patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory illnesses in the first day or two after the hospital discharges them.
“I really enjoy that program, teaching patients how to use puffers and medication management,” Maharjan says. “We make small changes that really make big differences in patients’ recovery and outcomes.”
In her second year with VHA, she received a Client Choice Award.
“Sangeeta truly is an exceptional nurse who makes a meaningful difference in people’s lives,” nursing supervisor Julia Bunyatova, RN, and human resources manager Dan Uzelac at VHA wrote when nominating Maharjan.
Throughout her studies and first years of practice in Canada, Maharjan was also raising her seven-year-old daughter, Smarika, and son, nine-month-old Nirvaan, while her husband runs an Indo-Chinese restaurant.
Although she originally missed the emergency nursing she practised in Nepal, Maharjan is now happy as a community nurse, she says.
“I feel proud to be part of the health-care system here,” she says. “I think there will be something every year I can learn and I can achieve.”
Maharjan is also grateful to have received the Joan Lesmond award, which she will cherish.
“This achievement is the proudest moment of my nursing career and will be my lifetime inspiration,” she says.
Laura Eggertson is a freelance journalist based in Wolfville, N.S.