Many nurses consider the profession a calling, but the country is facing a job shortage
In the era of COVID-19, it’s no surprise nurses place in the top 10 on most lists of fastest-growing and highest-demand jobs.
But as demand grows, the pandemic has only put more pressure on the understaffed hospital units. A study released by the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario in January found that 34 per cent of RPNs surveyed are considering leaving the profession.
Vicki McKenna, a registered nurse and president of the Ontario Nurses Association, says she sees and hears the fatigue in the nurses working on the front lines of the pandemic.
“I worry about them staying in the workforce, as it is, today, and in the working conditions that they’re working under,” she says.
In 2019, the Canadian Institute for Health Information released a report on registered nurses in Canada that found Ontario’s ratio of RNs per capita to be the lowest in the country. Ontario reported 690 RNs per 100,000 people, while Canada’s average was 831 RNs. At the time, McKenna said the province would have to hire over 20,000 RNs to reach the country’s staffing ratio.
While the by-the-book job description of a nurse involves patient care and clinical practice, the job extends far beyond that. Nurses, now more than ever, are also integral to the emotional well-being of patients and are often involved in patient advocacy.
“We are caring for humans and considering the patient’s needs and the needs of their family at every interaction,” McKenna explains.
Despite hearing from nurses and other health professionals that they don’t feel respected by government during the pandemic, McKenna says that the profession remains a rewarding one.
“There’s all kinds of opportunity for growth or change in the profession, and ongoing education and updating,” she says. “As a practising nurse, nurses love the work that they do, and I believe that it is a calling.”
She notes that nursing is intellectually stimulating because you won’t be doing the same job your entire career. Nurses typically have flexibility when it comes to what field they want to work in and can change between fields such as long-term care, hospitals and community services. There is also the option to become an educator or practitioner in the health field, and even travel (travel nurses are in high demand).
Nurses can also become a nurse practitioner by completing further certifications to specialize in certain areas as well, such as cardiovascular, critical care or psychiatric nursing.
“Nurses will tell me that’s what keeps them going; the new changes and updates that sometimes show better outcomes for patients they care for,” she says.
“Working with your patients, residents or clients through the most difficult times in their lives and helping them and their families through that is very, very rewarding,” McKenna says. “It’s an amazing profession.”
The lack of respect McKenna says nurses are feeling from government officials translates into more than just moral support – they’re asking for legislative changes to strengthen job protections and workplace rights.
She points to the provincial government’s passing of Bill 124, a wage-suppression bill that would limit wage increases to one per cent total compensation for three years.
“Nurses feel that that just demonstrates how little respect government has for the work that they do,” she says.
If Ontario wants to recruit more nurses, the province will have to make major changes, McKenna continues.
“One of the main issues is full-time work. Many nurses work part-time or casual – not by choice, but because those are the only jobs available,” she says. “They’re essentially called in and working full-time, but they refuse to offer full-time work, so they don’t get access to a benefit plan.”
She says consistent staffing – when nurses aren’t forced to move between three different part-time positions at three different locations – is better for patients, too.
“Nurses and health professionals who work with a consistent population, their skill level builds,” she says. “There’s lower infection rates, there’s shorter length of stay, because those staff know that patient population.”
All of this comes back to a recurring issue across multiple health-care field: staffing shortages. It’s a vicious cycle, in which poor working conditions discourage nurses from staying in the profession, while the shortage of people joining the profession exacerbates issues further.
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Over 25 colleges and universities in Ontario offer nursing programs to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Bachelor of Nursing.
After completing what is typically a four-year program, students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to start working. Tuition costs around $6,000 to $8,000 a year, and new nurses can expect an entry-level salary of around $45,000. The average nursing salary in Ontario is around $75,000 annually.
“The short story is, the need is there now,” McKenna says. “I certainly hope that we can see people consider it and come into the profession so that we have enough seats in the nursing programs to address the shortage that I’m worried will come with the age of the nursing workforce right now.”
Algonquin College (Ottawa) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,109.20 per year (includes fees). algonquincollege.com
Brock University (St. Catharines) Bachelor of Science in Nursing: Honours, $6,089.40 per year (plus fees). brocku.ca
Cambrian College (Sudbury) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $6,731.58 per year (includes fees). cambriancollege.ca
Centennial College in partnership with Ryerson University (Toronto) Bachelor of Science in Nursing Collaborative, $7,069.63 per year (includes fees). centennialcollege.ca
Conestoga College (Kitchener) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,548.64 per year (includes fees). conestogac.on.ca
George Brown College in collaboration with Ryerson University (Toronto) Bachelor of Science in Nursing Collaborative, $7,239per year (includes fees). georgebrown.ca
Humber College in collaboration with the University of New Brunswick (Toronto), Collaborative Bachelor of Nursing, $8,300 per year (includes fees). healthsciences.humber.ca
Lakehead University and Confederation College (Thunder Bay) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,217.14 (includes fees). lakeheadu.ca
Laurentian University (Sudbury) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $6,000.30 per year (plus fees). laurentian.ca
McMaster University (Hamilton) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $6,042.60 per year (plus fees). mcmaster.ca
Mohawk College (Hamilton) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,880.80 per year (includes fees). mohawkcollege.ca
Nipissing University (North Bay) Bachelor of Science in Nursing Collaborative with Canadore College, $7,245.81 per year (includes fees). nipissingu.ca
Northern College (Scarborough) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $6,936.40-$6,974.69 per year (includes fees). northernc.on.ca/nursing
Ontario Tech University (Oshawa) Bachelor of Science in Nursing Collaborative, $6,100.68 per year (plus fees). ontariotechu.ca
Queen’s University (Kingston) Bachelor of Nursing Science, $7,251.92 per year (includes fees). queensu.ca
Ryerson University (Toronto) Bachelor of Science in Nursing Collaborative, $7,140.90 per year (includes fees). ryerson.ca
Sault College (Sault Ste. Marie) Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,164.20 per year (includes fees). saultcollege.ca
St. Lawrence College (Kingston) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,034.60 per year (includes fees). stlawrencecollege.ca
Trent/Fleming School of Nursing (Peterborough) Collaborative Bachelor of Nursing, $7,742.50 per year (includes fees). trentu.ca
University of Toronto (Toronto) Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $10,341.85 per year (includes fees). bloomberg.nursing.utoronto.ca
University of Ottawa (Ottawa) Honours Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,109.20 per year (includes fees). uottawa.ca
University of Windsor with options at St. Clair College and Lambton College (Windsor, Sarnia) Collaborative Honours Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,138.05 per year (plus fees). uwindsor.ca
Western University and Fanshawe College (London) Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,678.22 per year (includes fees). uwo.ca
York University in collaboration with Seneca College and Georgian College (Toronto, King City, Barrie) Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing, $7,037 per year (plus fees). nurs.info.yorku.ca