Better work conditions pushing Quebec nurses to choose Switzerland

Quebec nurses have been moving to Switzerland for almost 40 years thanks attractive working conditions and health care system that is managed very differently than back home.

100s of nurses have moved to Switzerland over past 40 years, says University Hospital Center in Lausanne

The Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Quebec nurses have been moving to Switzerland for almost 40 years, thanks attractive working conditions and a health care system that is managed very differently than back home.

Quebecer Valérie Audet-Rochon has lived in Lausanne, Switzerland, for two and a half years.

Her daily experience of working as a nurse has changed dramatically since she left Quebec, she said.

Some of the changes include better pay, less pressure and less overtime. She said patients reap the rewards when a nurse is happy.

"I think we have to ask questions in Quebec about working conditions. People underestimate that a healthy nurse, satisfied with her conditions, is worth gold," Audet-Rochon said.

Another change is young nurses don't have to worry about having bad schedules because they are lower on the seniority ladder than others.

"We operate on rotating schedules. There is less staff at night and on weekends … That makes it so much easier when you are a young mother," she said.

Better pay and rotating schedules that don't prioritize seniority are some of the appealing features drawing nurses to Switzerland. (CBC)

Fewer possibilities

The main drawback for Quebec's nurses in Switzerland is they have fewer opportunities to advance since some jobs don't exist there. For example, there are no nurse practitioners, nurses able to prescribe tests and treatments, there.

"The hierarchy between nurses and doctors is stronger in Switzerland," Audet-Rochon said.

Swiss nurses also have more tasks, which are normally the responsibility of orderlies in Quebec, such as the distribution of meals.

It's all added up to hundreds of Quebec's nurses moving to Switzerland, according to Patrick Genoud, the assistant director of care at the University Hospital Center (CHUV) in Lausanne.

Beyond the work conditions nurses experience, Switzerland benefits from larger budgets, financed by a compulsory health insurance scheme.

Health policies are distributed per canton in Switzerland and each canton has some 800,000 inhabitants.

Thanks to this management style, each canton can better adjust to its own needs, Genoud said.

"We do not have instructions from Switzerland," Genoud said. "Situations are very different from one canton to another."

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Charles D'Amboise