The New Brunswick Nurses Union says the province can't afford to lose even one nurse to recruitment efforts from Nova Scotia.
Earlier this week Capital Health, which represents hospitals in Nova Scotia, placed a full page ad in a New Brunswick newspaper looking for intensive care, operating room and emergency room nurses.
Marilyn Quinn, the union's president, said that kind of poaching isn't uncommon, but New Brunswick can't spare any experienced nurses.
'As nurses retire we want to know that there are other nurses there ready to fill that void.' — Marilyn Quinn, president, New Brunswick Nurses Union
She said 45 per cent of New Brunswick nurses are eligible for retirement.
"We are talking about 2,500 nurses who can any day make a decision about retirement," she said.
Quinn said most are highly trained nurses who should be mentoring and training younger recruits and new graduates right now, but that's not happening because the province isn't hiring.
"I met with 92 students here in Fredericton just last month and none of them have been offered permanent positions," she said.
Succession plan for nurses needed
Quinn said she believes the efforts by Nova Scotia to recruit experienced New Brunswick nurses should be a wake-up call for the province.
She said without a succession plan there will soon be a critical shortage of specialized nurses in New Brunswick..
"As nurses retire we want to know that there are other nurses there ready to fill that void," said Quinn.
"They are going to be the work force of the future. We need them in now so that they are ready to take over."
Quinn said once graduating nurses leave New Brunswick and put down roots elsewhere it will be very difficult to get them back.
"They have university debt, they're looking for permanent positions, casual work will not hold them here in the province."
Union making efforts
Quinn said efforts are being made to ensure health care for New Brunswickers is seamless as nurses retire.
"We have a letter in our new collective agreement that requires the regional health authorities and department of health to sit down with us," she said.
"We want to look at the demographics, we want to say, 'Where are we likely to see the most retirements, do we have people ready, educated and trained to go into those speciality units."
Quinn said it is best to hire new graduates into permanent positions so they gain experience and training in one specific unit rather than being bounced around.
She said there are currently fewer than than 400 casual nurses in New Brunswick.
Joan Kingston, who teaches at the University of New Brunswick in the nursing faculty, said it's time the government start thinking about hiring younger nurses so they can be trained and gain experience.
"We need to think about the fact that those positions need to be filled. We can't be depending on nurses working overtime," said Kingston, who is a former Liberal cabinet minister.
Kingston said she believes more experienced nurses might choose to leave New Brunswick if they feel they are being overworked.