CBC In Depth
INDEPTH: HEALTH CARE
Taking the pulse of Canada's nurses
CBC News Online | Sept. 7, 2004

They check your blood pressure, they give you pills, they clean you and they comfort you. They're nurses - and in Canada, they're tired, worn out, and fed up. Many nurses today are not happy with their jobs. That's why some are leaving for other countries, or leaving the profession altogether. They want changes to restore respect and dignity to the nursing field.

Central Issues

There are five central issues that are at the heart of most nursing disputes. They are:

1. Salary

Nurses want to be paid better. Right now they are pointing to nursing wages in Alberta as a goal. The unions also want higher premiums for weekend and overnight shifts. They say these premiums would attract younger nurses, leaving older nurses to fill day shifts. The issue has grown in importance as the average age of nurses and the job's stress level have increased.

2. Schedule Flexibility

The health care system requires shift work. But many nurses find they can't have a life when they're constantly working different shifts. As a result nurses want more control over the hours they work.

3. Workload

There are a number of factors nurses say have increased their workload:
  • Shortage of Nurses - a nursing shortage means that nurses have to see more patients and work longer hours.
  • Increasing Life Expectancy - increased life expectancy means that there are more elderly people who generally require more care.
  • Patient Acuity - this refers to how ill a patient is. Many nurses believe that people are getting sicker because of unhealthy environments and lifestyles. Sicker patients require more monitoring, treatment, and administration of drugs.
  • Faster Patient Discharge - patients are spending much less time in hospital than they used to. Nurses are responsible for teaching those patients how to care for themselves outside of the hospital. But this becomes more difficult when the patients leave so quickly. What's more, as those patients leave, new ones fill their spots so nurses have to care for outgoing and incoming patients at the same time.
  • Staff cuts to other departments - because of staff cuts in other areas of the hospital, nurses are often left juggling their own responsibilities with a host of others. They may have to answer phones, clean up spills, and clear away food trays.
4. No time or money for professional development

Many nurses say it's difficult to get time off to attend professional development seminars or classes. They complain that if a nurse wants to take a technical or specialist course they have to pay for it on their own and do it outside of working hours.

5. Lack of full-time work

Cuts to health care funding have meant that hospitals have had to limit the number of full-time nursing positions available. As a result, nurses complain they can only find casual or part-time work. This means they don't have access to the same benefits and security.

Heading south

Both Canada and the United States are experiencing a shortage of nurses, but advantages south of the border are drawing Canadian nurses. They include:
  • Higher salary
  • Accommodating schedules allow nurses to pursue higher education
  • Training or education is often paid
  • When the nurse returns to work, the extra training he or she received is recognized and often leads to higher pay.
  • Large signing bonuses are offered
  • More full-time positions are available.
  • Relocation costs are covered
  • Better patient-nurse ratios
Most are going to key regions like:
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Massachusetts
  • California
  • North and South Carolina
Did you know?
  • Of the 254,752 registered nurses in Canada in 2002, 230,957 (90.7 per cent) were practising nurses.
  • The ratio of practising registered nurses to the Canadian population in 2002 was one nurse for every 136 Canadians.
  • The average age of a practising RN went up to 44.2 years from 42.6 years in 1998.
  • Of the practising registered nurses in Canada, only 54.1 per cent worked full time in 2002. This is up from 51 per cent in 2000 and 49.1 per cent in 1998.
  • Most nurses (85.9 per cent) report their primary area of responsibility is direct patient care.
(Sources: The Canadian Nurses Association, Statistics Canada, The Canadian Institute for Health Information)





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