Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia nursing students drafted to fill staff shortages

Nursing students are swapping classes for practical experience next month by going to work as hospitals and long-term care homes struggle amid staffing shortages.

Long-term care minister says students are part of a 'historic solution' to what is an 'urgent situation'

Nova Scotia nursing students are being pulled out of class and put to work next month to ease staff shortages in acute care and long-term care facilities. (Nicolas Steinbach/Radio-Canada)

Nova Scotia nursing students are being pulled out of classes early to plug staff shortages in hospitals and long-term care homes.

The province says students will be working for the next month and will be paid.

"This is an urgent situation," said Barb Adams, the province's minister of seniors and long-term care, in a news release.

"Students and their instructors have the chance to be part of a historic solution that will help long-term care residents, workers and their families."

The move will include nursing students at universities across the province and continuing care assistant students in community college. 

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, said it's a novel solution to what has become chronic staff shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's going to be a good educational opportunity for these students and I'm really impressed that they've agreed to do it," she said.

Nova Scotia Nurses' Union president Janet Hazelton says the pandemic has disrupted surgeries, procedures and staff, but the disruption to students will not affect their education. (David Laughlin/CBC)

The pandemic has forced the cancellation or postponement of many surgeries and procedures in acute care facilities, Hazelton said.

It has also disrupted workers in long-term and acute care, and the disruption to students will not affect the quality of their education, she said.

"Everybody's been called upon to do something that they may not have done," Hazelton said.

"Our nurses are being deployed all over the place. They normally work in the operating room and now they're all over the hospital. So everybody is pitching in to get through this and now the students have agreed to do it as well, and that's awesome."

Nursing graduates learn more on the actual job than they do during practical placements, Hazelton said, because they get taken under the wing of a senior nurse.

Swapping some class time for practical experience will help the students and patients, she said.

"There's lots of little extra things that normally is done in long-term care that hasn't been done because of staffing issues, so this is going to be an opportunity for the long-term care facilities ... to do more things with the residents."

Instructors to help supervise

Hazelton said staff shortages should not be a barrier to training students, because instructors have agreed to supervise them on site.

Brian Wong, minister of advanced education, expressed gratitude for post-secondary leaders and students for helping out.

"This is an exceptional chance for students to build skills, make workforce connections and help their fellow health-care colleagues while helping the Nova Scotians who need them the most," he said in a release.

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