Supporting Newcomers: A Cornerstone of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Efforts in Healthcare

By: The National Newcomer Navigation Network (N4) team

One in five Canadians was born outside Canada and we welcome over 400,000 newcomers every year as part of our economic strategy for growth, and our contribution towards providing a safe haven to refugees fleeing conflict and persecution. Yet newcomers face numerous barriers to health equity – this has been highlighted most recently through their disproportionate impact by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While many healthcare organizations have made renewed commitments to equity since the social justice movement of 2020, they often lack concrete tools to address the systemic barriers that create inequities among our more vulnerable communities. Geographic and sectoral silos pose additional challenges to professionals across Canada sharing best practices and resources.

The National Newcomer Navigation Network (N4) fills this void by providing opportunities for advancing equity for newcomers by facilitating Canadian health and social service professionals to connect, learn, and collaborate.

“N4 has offered me the opportunity to have access to the best practices, up-to-date news and emerging data as it relates to all things newcomer-related, and within one centralized location. Having access to free online educational materials and hearing from experts in the field has been a key benefit of N4, which I have taken full advantage of! Being able to bring local community challenges to a national platform has been a great experience – we are much more effective in identifying and developing big, collaborative solutions when we work together, rather than in a silo. I have truly loved the out-of-the-box thinking and the ideas generated when we've come together with a shared purpose."  - Jill Sangha, MSW RSW, Director, Office of Inclusion and Social Accountability, London Health   Sciences ​Centre

The concept of N4 emerged from the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015, when CHEO, a pediatric healthcare and research centre in Ottawa, began seeing many Syrian patients with acute medical needs. CHEO developed navigational supports by leveraging their Patient Experience team and creating a navigator position, staffed by someone familiar with Syrian culture and fluent in Arabic, whom the families could directly access. Standard work supported staff to understand how to leverage the support of the navigator and interpretation systems. Key patient information was translated into Arabic to engage families in care, and a phone survey was implemented to solicit patient feedback about their experiences. CHEO also formed relationships with key community partners who provided training to CHEO staff regarding cultural safety, trauma-informed approaches, and community resources available to support families who were encountering barriers to accessing healthcare services.

This initiative was recognized as a best practice by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), who then funded CHEO in 2019 to host and develop N4. N4 has grown to over 1000 members from coast to coast including professionals from healthcare, social services, academia, law, education, and government. The fully bilingual platform houses e-learnings and resources which can be leveraged by organizations and individual professionals, as well as facilitating ways to collaborate with peers across sectors and geography. Over 30 subject matter experts (SMEs) have signed on to N4 and committed to providing just-in-time support to members who are struggling with barriers impacting their newcomer patients.

In April 2022, IRCC expanded the mandate of N4 to leverage the platform and N4's network partners to also address inequities for Canadian internationally educated health professionals (IEHPs) in being optimally employed. Currently, less than half of physicians and nurses who immigrate to Canada are able to practice within their profession, contributing to our health human resource crisis and “brain waste." N4 has formed two working groups who are identifying and forming tangible recommendations to address the barriers that IEHPs encounter during immigration, certification and employment.  

Thanks to IRCC funding, N4 membership is free of charge.  N4 is always interested in connecting with organizations and professionals committed to supporting health equity among newcomers to Canada – with any questions or to connect, please reach out.​