Nursing graduates not willing to work in rural areas, health minister says
Ted Flemming agrees province needs to do more to offer fewer casual, more full-time jobs
Health Minister Ted Flemming denies New Brunswick has no openings for full-time nurses but says graduates aren't willing to work in rural areas, where many of the jobs are.
"It's not that there are no jobs … there may be a particular expectation as to location," said Flemming in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.
"Many people who take their education in Fredericton or Moncton, they want to stay in that city as opposed to [going] elsewhere."
Flemming said the Vitalité and Horizon health networks are trying to recruit nurses for 140 full-time positions, but updated figures from the Department of Health later put the number at 228.
Some of those positions are in rural areas, he said.
Job openings across province
"There are just fewer people living in rural areas than there are urban," he said. "But yet the people in rural areas need and are entitled to health care."
Figures from the Health Department show Vitalité has 107 of the full-time job openings and 59 part-time and temporary openings.
Vitalité's Beauséjour region, which includes the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont hospital in Moncton and Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, has 78 vacant positions, but the department figures for Vitalité don't indicate how many positions in each region are full time.
The northwest region has the next highest number of openings, at 41, followed by Restigouche, with 33, and Chaleur and the Acadian Peninsula with 28.
In the Horizon network, there are 121 full-time job openings. These include 62 jobs in Saint John, 27 in Moncton, 15 in Miramichi, 11 in the Upper River Valley and six in Fredericton.
Working their way to cities
Flemming compared nursing graduates to teaching graduates who need to work their way through the New Brunswick education system.
A teacher who hopes to teach English at Fredericton High School may have to take an entry-level job in a smaller community like McAdam, about 75 kilometres south, if there aren't openings in the city.
"In many respects you have to say, 'Is there a job, or is there a job that I particularly want?" he said.
Flemming said the province does need to do more to offer full-time positions to nurses working in casual positions.
"I'm not here to say that the government of the day is perfect," he said. "I'm here to say we're doing the best that we can as we see this problem looming."
A lot of retirements coming up
The province currently has about 8,000 nurses, but according to the New Brunswick Nurses Association, about 2,300 will be eligible to retire over the next five years.
The New Brunswick Nurses Union has spoken with graduates hired in New Brunswick for casual positions, where they don't have consistent schedules or paid benefits.
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"That is less attractive to new graduates sometimes, versus a permanent position being offered to them," said union president Paula Doucet, during a recent interview with CBC News.
Although he insisted he wasn't blaming the nurses union, Flemming twice suggested in the interview that the shortage of full-time jobs for new nurses is related to the collective agreement, which requires seniority be taken into account.
"If there are positions that are being held by people in the union, and that's what a young person aspires to, they will not necessarily achieve that the day they graduate," he said.
"Here's a collective agreement. There is seniority."
Province offers 10-year strategy
Flemming said the provincial government is also trying to find a way to hang on to nurse practitioners, a profession that has been "underutilized."
"Nurse practitioners have not been integrated into the New Brunswick health-care system to the extent that they should. I do not believe they have achieved their scope of practice."
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This summer the Department of Health announced a 10-year strategy to fix the nursing shortage. The government said it's looking to hire more than 1,300 nurses over the next decade.
On the post-secondary education side, the plan says the province must make sure the University of New Brunswick and University of Moncton are able to train more nurses.
By mid-September, Flemming said, he will be looking to see if there has been an increase in first-year nursing students at both universities compared to 2018.
With files from Information Morning Fredericton