Health Minister Dave Hancock announces funding to recruit more nurses at a news conference in Edmonton. ((CBC))

The Alberta government is pumping $5 million this year into efforts to boost the number of registered nurses working in the province.

The bulk of the funding announced Thursday in Edmonton will go to expanding a program to assess internationally trained nurses as part of a campaign to speed up the process of licensing them to work in Alberta.

The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta has received 1,012 applications from internationally educated nurses in the last six months, tripling the regular number of requests.

The province also announced $750,000 to pay for refresher courses for retired nurses and a new campaign to invite nurses who have left Alberta to return home.

Health Minister Dave Hancock said he knows existing nursing staff is overworked and burned out as the province tries to fill thousands of vacancies for nurses across Alberta.

"One of the ways of really showing appreciation is giving them hope [that]help is on the way," he said.

The nurses' union said a better enticement would be better working conditions.

"If we don't start working harder at changing the workloads here, we're going to continue to have an exodus," said Heather Smith of the United Nurses of Alberta, adding that 5,000 nurses are currently eligible to retire.

'If we don't start working harder at changing the workloads here, we're going to continue to have an exodus.' — Heather Smith, United Nurses of Alberta

Liberal Leader Kevin Taft blamed the government for slashing health-care jobs in years past and creating the problem. He advocated more training opportunities and less poaching.

"It's unacceptable and probably in some ways unethical for us to be poaching doctors and nurses and other health professionals, and not just from other parts of Canada, but from the Third World," said Taft.

More than $4 million will allow Calgary's Mount Royal College to hire more staff to increase the average number of assessments it completes in a year from 100 to 600.

That amount will also support opening an office in Edmonton's Oxford Tower to process assessment applications from around the world.

The federal government gave the province $530,000 on Tuesday for a pilot project that flies officials overseas to assess foreign nurses in their home countries, saving them the time and cost of travelling to Albertato learn whetherthey're qualified to work in the province.