Healthcare workers wanting a change of scene should try North America, says Hazel Davis

Michael Suddes has a life that most of us can only dream of. A five-acre, four-bedroom historical property in a rural setting, within commuting distance of an expanding city yet within snapping distance of picture-postcard mountains. He has three donkeys, chickens and a satisfying job at a large, modern hospital.

Born in Northumbria, Suddes is manager of the Calgary Stroke Program, based at the Foothills Medical Center. He moved from the UK to the Canadian province of Alberta in 2002 in the search of the good life. And boy, has he found it.

"A property of this type and size would be way out of reach back home," Suddes says. And Calgary is perfect for his family. "It's big enough as a city to have the amenities we were looking for, but not too big compared with other North American cities. The proximity to the mountains and mountain parks is fantastic."

Lynn and Keith Blackie, two nurses from London and Aberdeen, echo Suddes' sentiments. They live 180 miles away, in Edmonton, with their two children. "There are blue skies, even when it's snowing," says Lynn. "Canadians are so friendly. Nothing seems to be a problem for anyone and it's a very easy place to live."

Lynn and Keith met 14 years ago while training at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London; they had their honeymoon in Canada. "We always said we wanted to come back here to live," says Lynn. "I was flicking through nursing journals last June and came across adverts to come and work here."

Alberta is Canada's fastest-growing province due to its booming energy industry; the population stands at 3.5 million. The Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science recently reported that 50 per cent of the workforce is due to retire by 2015. An Alberta government drive to recruit the 1,400 nurses it currently needs is in full force; by 2016, the government estimates, the province will require an extra 6,200 nurses and 1,800 physicians.

So Keith Blackie applied. The interview process was quick – eight to 10 weeks – and Lynn says it took about eight months from the initial application to her arrival in Alberta.

It is not hard to see why the Blackies were so keen to come. According to Capital Health, registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses earn £30,800 to £40,430 per a year. Certified graduate nurses and graduate psychiatric nurses (those who still have to pass their Canadian national exam) stand to earn £28,180 to £34,430, depending on years of experience and seniority. That compares with a minimum starting salary for a registered nurse in the UK of £19,683; the 2007 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings shows that the average wage for a nurse is £23,044.

Housing is also considerably cheaper than in Britain, at least for now. Lynn and Keith are letting their house in Scotland, and in Canada they are renting a four-bedroom bungalow with a basement and a large back garden for $1,500 (£750) a month.

The average house in Alberta costs $350,000 (£170,000), less than houses in the more popular province of British Columbia but a little more than in other provinces such as Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

Healthcare in Canada is roughly similar to the NHS: taxpayer funded and free. But in acute care, the infrastructure is considerably better than the UK, says Suddes. "Staffing ratios – and staffing in general – is better here, too, and this applies right across the board, in terms of nursing, medical and allied health staff."

If thoughts of mountains and chickens and single-bed hospital rooms are getting you carried away, relocating as a professional to Canada can have its downsides. Lynn Blackie was alarmed to discover that her school of nursing had destroyed her records after five years, and was thus unable to send her nurse training transcript to the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta. So, despite having a BSc and MSc in healthcare, she is now required to re-sit a three- to five-day exam to prove she is fit to nurse in Canada – even though she is able to train Canadian nurses!

For now though, says Keith, "When your children look at you and ask, 'Can we stay?', you realise that the effort and worry was worth it."

A guide to emigrating to Canada

*Visit for details of healthcare jobs.

*To emigrate to Canada you need a firm job offer from a government-approved employer.

*Apply for a work permit via the Canadian embassy.

*Skilled workers usually get work permits that last for the duration

of the job – usually two years. Extensions must be applied for.

*Most employers have assistance schemes in place for relocation.

*Applying to become a permanent citizen through Citizenship and

Immigration Canada takes between two and six years (