Internationally Trained Medical Laboratory Technologists

by Theresa Wojtasiewicz

Within the next 10 years, it is estimated at least 50 percent of practising Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLTs) will be eligible to retire, and there are presently not enough students graduating from medical technologist programs in Canada to fill the gap. If you are a medical laboratory technologist who wishes to pursue your career in Canada, here is what you need to know to become certified and registered to practise.

You can begin the process before you leave your country of origin; in fact, you are encouraged to do so, as obtaining the documents you need for a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), such as academic and educational transcripts, prior clinical training and employment records, is easier to do when you are still in your home country. You will also need proof of English or French language proficiency.

Once your file has been assessed, you will be told if you meet the equivalency standard, or, if you don’t, what courses you will need to upgrade to the standard.

Some people may be required to complete a full program in Canada, if the overlap is not close to equivalent. Once you have completed all the necessary courses and met the language proficiency standard, you will then write a certification exam. When you pass the exam, you can then apply to register with the regulating body in the province you wish to practice (except for British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Territories, which are unregulated). With a license, you can then apply for a position in any facility where Medical Technologists are required, such as hospitals, private clinics, university research labs, biotechnology companies, community health clinics, public health facilities and specialty labs.

Where Do I Start?

The organization that handles your Prior Learning Assessment as well as the certification exam is the CSMLS – Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science. The CSMLS is a national organization whose certification is recognized in every province and territory (except Quebec, which has its own certifying and regulating organization, Ordre professionel des technologistes médicaux du Québec - OPTMQ).

Prior Learning Assessment

Your first step is to apply for a Prior Learning Assessment, which you can download for free from the CSMLS website (contact information is at the end of this article), or order a package to be mailed to you for a fee of $25. Before CSMLS begins your Prior Learning Assessment, you will have to have your academic and educational qualifications evaluated through either W.E.S. (see July/August 2009 issue – “Getting Your Education Recognized”) or I.C.E.S. – International Credential Evaluation Services. Next, if English or French is not the language in which you studied, you will be required to take a language proficiency test. For English, CSMLS accepts tests from TOEFL, iBT, IELTS (A or G), CanTest and MELA. Once these two steps are completed, CSMLS will then proceed with evaluating your past training and experience. The average time for CSMLS to issue its first PLA report on your qualifications is about seven months, depending on when you applied and how quickly your transcripts and other documentation are received.

Certification Examination

The PLA report will tell you if you are eligible to write the certification exam, or if there are gaps which you will be required to address before becoming eligible. Over 300 PLA candidates are assessed by CSMLS every year, of which 90 percent do not meet the eligibility requirements. Canadian standards for MLTs require candidates to study the five main disciplines: clinical chemistry, microbiology, histotechnology, transfusion sciences and haematology.

Internationally educated candidates may find they are missing portions of what is required to practice in Canada. The PLA report will identify those gaps and make recommendations for a learning plan so that the candidate can meet the requirements necessary to write the certification exam. This may involve taking just a few courses to refresh and update skills and knowledge, enrolling in a full time program if two or more comprehensive gaps have been identified, or enrolling in a bridging program such as that offered by Mohawk College or the Access and Options program for internationally educated MLTs at the Michener Institute.

Registration

The next step to practising as an MLT is to register with the provincial regulating body. In Ontario, this would be the College of Medical Laboratory Technologists of Ontario (CMLTO). There are two classes of registration: Practising and Non-Practising. To register in the Practising class, you must show your proof of graduation from a program assessed as equivalent to a Canadian MLT program (your PLA), which would include successful completion of any bridging or full course programs, and your certificate or statement of a passing grade for the certification exam from CSMLS. You must also have proof that you have been engaged in the use of your skills, knowledge and judgement as an MLT within the past three years either through employment (if you were employed in your country of origin, for example) or through any CMLTO-approved refresher courses you have taken. You must also be a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident or authorized to practise medical laboratory technology under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

An important component of practising as an MLT is to understand the social aspects of the Canadian workplace. The CMLTO not only regulates MLTs for their academic and educational requirements, but also ensures that all MLTs are qualified to practice safely in an ethical and competent manner with their colleagues and in any contact with their patients. The pace of working in a Canadian laboratory may be very different to where you were working in your country of origin, so it is important to get a sense of how the Canadian workplace functions. Mohawk College’s bridging program is the only institution that offers clinical placement (spaces are limited), as well as offering simulated clinical experience. The Michener Institute also offers refresher courses for internationally educated MLTs, but only offers simulated clinical.

For more information about the application, certification and registration processes and what fees are required for each stage, please visit the websites listed below.

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