Former nurse on P.E.I. talks about burnout — and says the province needs to do more

The province recently announced a new nursing graduate recruitment program, but a former nurse says much more needs to be done to improve working conditions.

Province says recently announced recruitment program for nursing students will help

Linda McLaughlin says since she retired from nursing she feels less stress, but she worries about those still working. (Laura Meader/CBC)

As the province lauds a new nursing recruitment program, a nurse who recently retired says much more needs to be done to improve working conditions.

"It's just too stressful and too demanding," said Linda McLaughlin, a former registered nurse.

McLaughlin worked as a nurse at the Prince Edward Home, a long-term care home in Charlottetown, for more than 25 years.

She says if she was still working as a nurse her phone would be ringing constantly — especially during this holiday time — with pleas to cover shifts.

McLaughlin said it can be tough on the nurses working during a storm when there is no backfill or support available, but the requirements for patient care remain the same. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"A lot of times you just can't find anybody, so they end up working short," she said. "You're just pulling your hair out by the end of the shift." 

'You don't have enough staff'

Although McLaughlin stopped working in 2015, she said she is still in touch with many nurses who are still working, and that little has changed. She says budgets needs to be increased to prevent overwork and stress.

After a 16-hour shift, you might get three or four hours off. Then you're back again working again.- Linda McLaughlin

McLaughlin said it's common for eight-hour shifts to turn into 16-hour shifts, with nurses simultaneously providing patient care while trying to call in staff when more people are needed because of storms or sick workers.

"After a 16-hour shift, you might get three or four hours off. Then you're back again working again," said McLaughlin.

The Canadian Nurses Association says it can be a vicious circle when staff become tired and sick, and then can't get back to work, leaving the other nurses even more short-staffed. (CBC News)

​She said that during night shifts there's often only one staff person per 12 residents. 

Nurses are supposed to be doing patient-centred care, but she says sometimes all that's possible is basic care: feeding and changing people. "You can only do your best," she said. "I feel badly for people who are still working,"

New recruitment program announced

The province has recently announced a new recruitment program for nursing students.

The nursing recruitment incentive program for new graduates will offer nursing students a signing bonus of $1,100 and guaranteed employment for two years with Health PEI.

It replaces some previous sponsorship and new grad programs. 

"They'll get a guarantee of permanent status," said Marion Dowling, chief of nursing for Health PEI. 

"Our previous programs, like the sponsorship, was limited to 18 new grads, so this is going to look at up to 50."

Marion Dowling said Health PEI does have times when staff shortages mean staff can't leave their worksite or take holidays. (Laura Meader)

There are currently about 70 vacant nursing jobs with the province, Dowling said, and it has been that way for about six years. 

Health PEI confirmed some staff can't get time off, or have to work back-to-back shifts due to shortages. 

"Christmastime and the holiday time is a challenging time," said Dowling. 

She believes the graduate recruitment will help support the other nurses.

The new nursing graduate incentive program will offer a one-time financial incentive and two full years of employment with Health PEI, while requiring the new nurses to sign a return-in-service agreement which would see them remain in the province for the two full years. (CBC)

Working conditions important, says national group

The Canadian Nurses Association said many areas — especially in rural parts of Canada — are struggling to find enough nurses and keep them. 

The group says graduate incentive programs, mentorship programs for nursing students and good working conditions with flexible work hours are important. 

It's a vicious circle: you can become tired and then sick and then not be able to go back to work.- Josette   Roussel

Josette Roussel, a registered nurse and program lead in nursing practice and policy at the Canadian Nurses Association, said the shortages are tough on nurses. 

"It's a vicious circle: you can become tired and then sick and then not be able to go back to work," she said.

They hear concerns from members about being exhausted and stressed, Roussel said.

As of late December, the province says 15 nursing students have signed up for the new recruitment program and more are expected.

Officials say there are also incentive plans in the works to attract more experienced nurses.

More P.E.I. news


Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.


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