Good afternoon. I'm Pat Vanderkooy, representing Dietitians of Canada, with public affairs. My colleague is Marlene Wyatt, with professional affairs in our association.
You have before you an outline, and we will shortly be following up with a brief that we will submit.
Dietitians of Canada is our only national professional association of dietitians in Canada. We're already on record calling for cross-sector collaboration, national leadership, and coordinated action to address key issues.
Today I'll address access to dietitians' services in all sectors with a sufficient dietitian workforce. In Canada, dieticians are the only regulated health professionals with accredited education and training in food and human nutrition. Becoming a registered dietician requires five years of post-secondary training, four years at an accredited four-year university program, and an additional year of practicum training.
Of the 9,500 dieticians in Canada today, most are employed in our publicly funded health system. As well, dieticians work in academic settings, in the food industry, and as private consultants and counsellors.
With growing interest in healthy lifestyles and the urgent need to prevent and better manage chronic diseases and obesity, dieticians are in high demand. Dieticians participate in collaborative care as members of interprofessional health teams. In Canada, however, access to dieticians is limited by a shortage of dieticians. Today I'll address three aspects of that shortage.
First is our labour shortage and essentially the bottleneck in our practical training component. Last year Dieticians of Canada produced a snapshot of the dietetic workforce in Canada. We found, one, that all provinces and territories have vacancies that are difficult to fill, especially in the rural, remote, and northern communities, and almost half of the dietician workforce currently is planning to retire within the next ten years. Dietician vacancies are already impacting the quality of health services. Some employers, to fill gaps, have hired non-professional educators or health professionals with different scopes of practice. In our health care systems there is limited funding to support practicum training. There are gaps in training opportunities as well in smaller communities and among aboriginal populations. Based on our projections, there is an urgent need to increase the practical training capacity for dietician candidates in Canada.
Second, as with other professions, we also have a growing number of internationally educated colleagues who wish to practise in Canada. We require bridging programs for qualification to practise. We believe it's only fair and equitable that these internationally educated dieticians have the opportunity to be employed here in their chosen profession. Currently, we have only one such program for dietician bridging supported by government funding. In the past five years, this program at Ryerson University in Toronto has graduated over 100 internationally educated dieticians. Before this program was established, very few internationally educated dieticians were able to gain registration for practise in Ontario. Today, almost all the graduates of this bridging program have succeeded in passing the national certification exam and are employed as registered dieticians. Demand for this program remains high, with applicants from across Canada.
My third point today is that, as you may know, the Canadian Institute for Health Information tracks workforce data for six other health professions. We dieticians are not one of these professions. We don't have continuous, up-to-date, accurate information about our workforce trends and the projected needs in Canada. We support the continuation of the work of the Canadian Health Human Resources Research Network. We really need access to information for innovation in development, training, regulation, recruitment, and retention.
What is it that we need? We need a comprehensive health human resources strategy so that Canadians will have access to the right care at the right time.
We recommend, as dietitians of Canada, improved and increased training capacity in accredited universities and practicum programs. Our profession needs more spots for practicum training to increase the number of practice-ready dietitians. We need support to coordinate this practicum training and an efficient system that addresses the newer competency standards that we have developed.
We also require improved workforce mobility, and specifically here we ask for sufficient support for bridging programs for internationally educated dietitians. This would require sustained government funding to ensure the continuation of our one current dietitian bridging program in Canada, and of course it would be great if there were assistance to develop and implement bridging programs for dietitians in other parts of Canada.
Last, we do need improved labour market information. Our profession requires support from the research network. We would like to have assistance from CIHI and Stats Canada to initiate data collection for dietitians, and some support from the provincial and territorial models for supply and demand responses.
I thank you for this opportunity to address you on behalf of health human resources challenges in our profession. We look forward to your questions, and also to your report and recommendations in the near future.