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Western Quebec's nurses leaving for greener pastures

There are more nursing students finishing their studies in western Quebec than ever before, but many of the new graduates are leaving the region to find work elsewhere.

No shortage of nursing grads from the region, but Gatineau alone has 162 job vacancies

Camille Lafont, a nursing student at the Université du Québec en Outaouais, says she may seek a job in northern Quebec — or even another country — rather than remain in the region after she graduates. (Laurie Trudel/Radio-Canada)

There are more nursing students finishing their studies in western Quebec than ever before, but many of the new graduates are leaving the region to find work elsewhere.

Data obtained by Radio-Canada shows an increase in the number of students graduating from nursing programs at the Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) and the Cégep de l'Outaouais over the past decade.

In 2008, 188 nursing students graduated from UQO. Ten years later that number had climbed to 505.

However, competitive wages in Ontario and tougher working conditions within the Quebec health system have led many graduates to leave the region. 

Some health institutions, like the Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, Que., have been forced to temporarily shut down certain units because of staff shortages. Nurses have also gone on strike in the province because of burnout.

Camille Lamont, a second-year nursing student at UQO, said she plans to leave the Outaouais once she graduates.

She said she'd prefer to take her chances in northern Quebec, which also has a pressing need for more nurses — or even look for a job in another country, where her expertise would be recognized.

"Why would I want to work in a region where I feel like I'm not going to be fully valued, like I value myself as a nurse?" she said.

A glaring shortage

Despite more nurses graduating from local schools, the shortage of nurses has plagued the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO), the region's health authority.

In Gatineau alone there are 162 vacant positions, with dozens unfilled elsewhere in the Outaouais — particularly in rural areas.

Nursing student Amélie Barrette isn't writing off a job in western Quebec just yet, however.

She said she feels it's important to give the Outaouais health system a chance, and wants to improve local working conditions.

"I want to have an impact directly on people that are in my region," Barrette said. "I just want to give back to the community."

Nursing student Amélie Barette says she wants to stay in the Outaouais after she graduates, but is open to moving if working conditions prove poor. (Laurie Trudel/Radio-Canada)

However, Barrette acknowledged many of her classmates don't share her feelings — a fact brought home when one of her teachers asked students to raise their hands if they were seeking a local job.

"Less than half [plan] to stay in the region, mostly because of the bad conditions in the hospitals," she said.

Even Barette said that while she wants to work in western Quebec, she doesn't know if it'll be possible.

"It's going to depend on what are the conditions are going to be like when I graduate," she said.

With files from Laurie Trudel

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