A nurse from the Royal Victoria hospital was left with no choice but to take an unpaid month off work, to complete a second high school degree.
Jeff Powell, a soon to be father of four, moved from California to Quebec many years ago.
He completed his nursing degree at Dawson College and began working in the oncology department at the Royal Victoria hospital.
Powell hadn’t passed the French tests at Dawson before graduation – a requirement to be a nurse – and was given a four year window to pass the test at the Quebec Language watchdog offices, the OQLF.
He met with civil servants, passed the interview portions, but kept failing the written parts.
“You would have to write a couple hundred words, and as soon as you make six or seven mistakes, you automatically fail,” he said.
Powell admitted that even after attempting the exam repeatedly, he never knew what his errors were.
“They don’t tell you how you can improve or what you should be doing differently.”
He believes the OQLF exam is difficult to the point that few Francophones could pass it.
Faced with the upcoming four-year deadline, human resources at the MUHC were going to have to force Powell off the job until he passed.
Powell said about four of five other colleagues, on his floor alone, are faced with the same problem.
“That’s when I decided to go back and get my high school degree here in Quebec,” he said. “I even had to take English classes again.”
He took an intensive program that allowed him to get a Quebec diploma in one month – which allowed him to be exempt from the OQLF exam.
“I work and chart in English, speaking with Francophone patients is never a problem,” he admitted. “Many of my Francophone patients are really surprised that I have to take an exam.”
The experience, he said, caused a significant financial stress for his family.
“Raising three, soon to be four kids, isn’t cheap – and there I was, sitting at home, working to get another high school degree.”
“It’s just ironic because they want people to move here, but at the same time – they make it next to impossible.”