Safe licensing takes time 
Safe licensing takes time
Criticisms about long application processing times can fail to account for the many external factors at play that are not under the regulator’s control. Regulatory expert Dr. Sheila Marchant-Short explores this and more in our latest Voices article.

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Regulators are often criticized in the media, by governments, by employers, and by applicants, for being slow in getting licensing applications processed. The application processes of regulators, which are commonly completed manually or using outdated, siloed technologies, are often described as cumbersome or burdensome for the applicant. Recently, there have been assertions that if regulators could or would do their work faster, the current health care labor shortages would be alleviated.

Regulators are limited in their ability to respond to criticism because it is often related to an individual application, which they are not at liberty to discuss due to privacy obligations. However, while regulators can certainly improve their internal processes by adopting modern technologies that automate many of the time-consuming tasks for regulatory staff (and licensees) related to applications, criticisms about long processing times generally fail to take into account that in reality, there are a number of external factors at play when it comes to processing applications that are not under the regulator’s control.

Regulators have a legislative mandate to ensure that applicants are safe to enter the professional workforce, but doing this properly can take time. Each time an individual applies to become a licensee, the regulator is committed to having an application processed not only in a timely manner, but most importantly, in a manner that prioritizes protection of the public.

Application approvals require information, verifications from external organizations and applicants

Every regulator has processes in place to ensure that an applicant has the required education, competencies, and language requirements needed to work safely in the environment that they are entering. Regulatory authorities have a responsibility, which is taken very seriously, to have assurance that these requirements are being met before they license an applicant. This assurance comes from information obtained from other organizations such as educational institutions, assessment services, police agencies, and other regulatory authorities, and provision of proof by the applicant themselves.

This crucial information is not always easily or quickly obtained. For example, it can take several weeks for an academic institution to provide proof of program completion to the regulator for a number of reasons, including workload for the institution, which varies based on time of year. Each spring, when thousands of students are graduating and applying for licensure, a typical registrar’s office is inundated with similar requests. It is also not uncommon for students to initiate a licensing application before they have officially completed their programs, which also gives the impression that the process is slow, but in reality the regulator must wait for the student to finish their program and provide proof of program completion.

Also, in instances where a criminal record check (CRC) is required for licensing, it can take up to two weeks for the process to be complete, depending on the police organization or agency conducting it, and even longer in the case of international CRCs. In the event that the CRC indicates a criminal charge or pending charge, the regulatory body may need to complete further investigation to determine whether this instance will impact the application or whether it will create a delay in determination.

In addition, application processes can be more complex and time-intensive when more than one regulatory body is involved. Every applicant who has worked in another province/territory or state prior to their application must prove, by way of a verification, that they were in good standing or that when they did work in that other jurisdiction, they did not have any discipline or practice issues. In some cases, applicants have worked in multiple other jurisdictions and therefore it takes time to obtain all the necessary information to determine that the applicant is safe to enter practice.

Requests for Verification depend on the regulatory body requesting it, but the requirements are usually set in legislation and can range from requiring a verification from the original regulatory body and the current regulatory body only, to requiring verifications from all regulatory bodies that the person has ever been registered with. This can involve many organizations with varying abilities to respond quickly based on the demand that they experience internally. As a result, it can take several weeks for these documents to be provided and ready for the regulator’s review.

Licensing processes must prioritize public safety above all else

Ensuring that new entrants are qualified to practice is one of a regulator’s most important responsibilities. Regulators do their best to approve applications in a timely manner, and many are implementing new technologies that can both automate time-consuming tasks for staff and provide an improved licensing experience for applicants. But expectations from employers and governments that approvals can be – or should be – immediate upon job offers are unrealistic, as the regulator’s primary responsibility is to ensure that the prospective licensee is safe to enter the workforce, and doing this properly takes time.

Ultimately, no individual regulatory authority controls the speed at which an application is approved because verifying an applicant’s qualifications depends on the processes of other organizations (such as those listed above), and it also depends on the applicant providing the necessary information in a timely manner. In every case, the regulatory authority practices due diligence to ensure that the application is complete and the individual is eligible for a license.

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Dr. Sheila Marchant-Short
Written byDr. Sheila Marchant-Short
Dr. Sheila Marchant-Short is a subject matter expert with over four decades of experience in nursing and health care regulation. She has worked in various roles at public health organizations in Canada and the U.S., including the College of Registered Nurses of Prince Edward Island (CRNPEI), where she recently served as Chief Executive Officer and Registrar for almost five years. She is currently Thentia’s Managing Director of Health Care Regulation.

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