Family Structure, Gender Equality and Professionalism For New Canadians

The Citizenship and Immigration Canada website has an excellent resource called "Welcome to Canada: What You Should Know" that provides an overview of the following topics:

  • Getting Ready—Before You Leave For Canada
  • The Day You Arrive in Canada
  • Immigrant-Serving Organizations
  • Your First Few Days in Canada
  • Finding a Job, Building a Future
  • General Information About Canada
  • The Canadian Way of Life
  • Your Rights and Obligations

You can access this document here.

Canada's approach to the integration of immigrants into Canadian society has been described historically as a "cultural mosaic" that promotes and celebrates multiculturalism. It is not surprising then, that this approach is also used when ITDs begin to integrate into the health care workforce.

Some Cultural Sensibilities

Being Polite

There are several cultural considerations to be made when you are interacting with patients and colleagues in your practice. You may notice that styles and patterns of communication differ from urban to rural centres but as a general rule of thumb Canadians have a reputation for being very polite. As an oral health care professional, you want to maintain a constant level of polite professionalism with your patients. It is common for Canadians to avoid confrontation which makes honest and direct conversation difficult, which may pose challenges to you as an oral health care professional (Government of Alberta, 2013).

Also, be aware that it is not uncommon for people to have a friendly attitude and ask questions to gain understanding. In general, Canadians are careful to not offend anyone and put thought into their choice of words. Try to observe the way people talk around you and the choice of words they use.

Being Punctual

In Canada, there is tremendous value attached to being punctual and respectful of another person's time. This means it is important that you respect your patient's time and aim to maintain a relatively fixed schedule to demonstrate your professionalism.

Professional Appearance

Expectations about how you dress for work will depend on your location. In rural areas people tend to present themselves fairly casually compared to people in large urban centres. There is an expectation that as a professional you present yourself fairly formally but the best advice is to observe your colleagues' attire and mimic this as a standard.

Interpreting Body Language

Body language is an important form of cultural communication signalling respect, interest, empathy and distress. Be careful how you interpret such "cues." There can be important cultural differences and norms that have an impact on communication during an encounter with a client. It is important to build awareness of non-verbal information conveyed by eye contact, facial expression, voice and intonation, person space and body posture in a Canadian context.

Unwritten Rules of Hierarchy

It is noteworthy that the Canadian health care professional culture has a flatter hierarchy than many other countries. It is a good idea to reflect on your beliefs about authority figures and appreciate cultural differences. More specifically, gender relations in Canada strive to be egalitarian. Indeed, men and women hold equal value in society and should be treated with an appropriate level of respect at all times (Government of Alberta, 2013).

Family Structure

In general, Canadian society is open, liberal and accepting of difference and change. This means that there are many different kinds of family structures that you may not be accustomed to. Some of these include:

  • Families with two parents and children
  • Families with no children by choice
  • Families with one parent (either mom or dad) and children
  • Blended families, which are made up of divorced people who have remarried with children from previous unions
  • Mixed culture, race, religion families
  • Families with an absentee parent, for example, when one parent works away from the family home for extended periods of time
  • Families with adopted and/or foster children
  • Families with same-sex parents

Despite the diversity in family structure in Canada, it is unusual to find relatives other than parents and children living on one family home. Extended family—meaning grandparents, aunts and uncles—usually live in separate homes in the same or nearby communities. However, in immigrant communities multi-generational households are not uncommon (Government of Alberta, 2013; Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2008). 

Dealing with Feelings of Isolation

Fostering Relationships and Making Connections in Your Community

Feelings of isolation are common among internationally trained professionals everywhere. As an internationally trained dentist you may try some of the strategies in the section below to help ease feelings of isolation as you begin to practise in Canada.

Making Connections

Making connections through family, friends, children and the workplace is a good way to promote community integration and ease feelings of isolation. You may wish to join or seek out:

  • Local professional association groups
  • Immigrant settlement organizations
  • Social clubs

Allow Sufficient Time to Adjust

The transition to practising in Canada is challenging. The delivery and model of dental health care in Canada may be quite different than the system you are accustomed to. Try to recognize when your judgements may be influenced by a different set of cultural values. Take time to engage in conversation with colleagues and friends about any questions or observations you may have to confirm, question and elaborate (Government of Alberta, 2013).

Consider Your Spouse's Feelings

Your contentment and ability to overcome feelings of isolation will be closely related to your spousal and family's happiness. The initial months in a new community can be exciting for an ITD as you pursue new professional opportunities but may also be the hardest for your family as your social and professional life develops faster than theirs. Here are some strategies you can use to ease feelings of isolation for your spouse and family:

  • Create an open dialogue with your family about your new home.
  • Encourage community involvement and develop a shared sense of belonging.
  • Help your spouse find a job in your new community.
  • Enroll your partner or family members in educational courses for personal or professional development.
  • Explore volunteer opportunities.
  • Attend community events together (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2008).