Are tales of harsh working conditions scaring away Quebec's future nurses?

According to recent data from Montreal's regional admission services (SRAM), the number of nursing school applications has dropped by 22 per cent over the last five years.

Number of nursing school applications at Montreal CEGEPs has dropped by 22% over last 5 years

A group of nurses stand outside a hospital on their lunch break, waving flags in protest. Nurses in Quebec say they are overworked and exhausted. (CBC)

As Quebec nurses continue to mobilize and speak out about difficult working conditions, Montreal CEGEPs are seeing a decline in the number of people applying to nursing programs in the province.

According to recent data from Montreal's regional admission service (SRAM) — which represents 32 schools — the number of nursing school applicants has dropped significantly in the last five years.

Only 2,948 people applied to nursing programs this year before the March 1 deadline, compared with 3,748 in 2014, a 22 per cent decrease.

Bernard Tremblay, president of Quebec's CEGEP federation, said the phenomenon can't be explained by the decline in general student population alone. 

He suggested that current turmoil in the industry might be painting a discouraging image for incoming students.

"Our current hypothesis is that many news stories seem to say that the situation for nurses is difficult, that the working conditions and organization of work are difficult," Tremblay said.

Nurses speaking out

Émilie Ricard, a nurse in Sherbrooke, posted this photo of herself in tears on Facebook. (Facebook/Émilie Ricard)
This decline in applications comes at a time when nurses in Quebec are speaking out against mandatory overtime, saying that it jeopardizes the care they give to patients.

In January, Sherbrooke, Que., nurse Émilie Ricard posted a photo of herself crying after a difficult night shift. It was shared tens of thousands of times online.

On Wednesday, the Federation of Health and Social Services, whose members include nurses, met with Health Minister Gaétan Barrette hoping to discuss how reforms could be causing distress among workers.

With files from Radio-Canada, Presse Canadienne, and CBC's Matt D'Amours