In an effort to fill the many nursing job vacancies in the province, Nova Scotia’s premier announced on Thursday that every nursing student who graduates from a school in the province over the next five years has “a standing offer to work in Nova Scotia.”
“This government is taking bold action today to keep our best and brightest nursing grads here,” said Premier Tim Houston.
“We want them to have career stability and opportunities for advancement, right here at home.”
Houston said he was disappointed to learn last week that recruiters from British Columbia were meeting with graduating nurses here and offering bonuses, “while some students felt they didn’t get the same treatment from local recruiters.” He said about 700 nurses graduate in the province each year.
He promised that graduating nurses will be able to get a job with Nova Scotia Health, the IWK Health Centre or the continuing care sector.
The shortage of health-care workers has become a major issue in Nova Scotia, with more than 2,100 vacancies reported earlier this month. Among them are 1,086 registered nursing postings, 235 licensed practical nursing vacancies, 12 unfilled nurse practitioner jobs and an estimated 448 continuing care assistance jobs.
The health-care worker shortage, which has been an issue for years, is blamed for driving the increasing number of emergency room closures in the province.
During Houston’s announcement on Thursday, he said his government will “usher in a new era of respect between health-care workers and government.”
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He said he met with many health professionals during his government’s Speak Up for Health Care tour, where they spoke with workers about the issues they’re facing and what solutions they’d like to see.
Houston said first-year nurses will receive job offers under the guidance of Dr. Kevin Orrell, the CEO of the newly created office of health care professionals and recruitment.
The premier said nursing students “will know that they are not taken for granted.”
“They will understand that they are respected and valued in Nova Scotia and they don’t have to go to B.C., Ontario or the States to find work,” said Houston.
“Talented, young nurses will walk out of school and be able to start their careers right away, right here in Nova Scotia.”
‘A light at the end of the tunnel’
The news was welcomed by Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton, who described it as “one of the best announcements I’ve experienced in a very long time.”
“I think it’s fantastic news,” she said.
“It will attract people to the profession, obviously, if you know that when you finish all your hard work in school, you’re promised a full-time job with benefits. That’s huge.”
Hazelton said she believes the change will also help retain nurses, who have been struggling under increased workloads during the shortage.
She said existing nurses will be relieved to know there will soon be more people working alongside them.
“Nurses are leaving the profession because they’re tired, they can’t get their vacation, they’re working too much overtime,” she said. “I think they’ll see this as a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hazelton said even though nurses are better-paid in some other provinces, knowing that a job is waiting for them once they graduate in Nova Scotia will help keep nurses here.
Hazelton said money isn’t the only consideration for nurses, noting that other provinces are struggling with nursing shortages too. Hazelton said the change in Nova Scotia will help to eliminate the shortage, leaving a better working environment for nurses.
“Work life and work balance is as important to nurses as money,” she said. “With more nurses in the system, I’m more likely to get my time off, I’m more likely not to be working short.”
‘How are they going to keep us?’
Megan Lock, who’s in her final year in Dalhousie University’s nursing program, said she’s pleased with Houston’s efforts to keep nursing students in the province.
Lock said her class was visited by recruiters from British Columbia a couple of weeks ago, and Nova Scotia recruiters followed shortly after.
They did a “helpful presentation” on how the application process works for new graduates, but Lock said some questions remain.
“It’s quite a confusing process and I do wish they’d started it sooner,” she said. “I personally want to go into acute or critical care, such as an emergency department role, and I’m not sure where I fit in in these jobs that they have open to us.”
Lock also wished that Nova Scotian recruiters had visited them first.
“It kind of said a lot that they were willing to come right out to us right away and be like, ‘We want you to move across the country and come and work with us,” she said. “And it’s like, well, where is that enthusiasm in our province?”
While she said Thursday’s news was a “great announcement,” she was concerned with how the province will retain the nurses they hire.
“It’s one thing to say that there’s jobs for us, but are there jobs in the areas we want? Are there ways for tackling burnout?” she said, adding that she also had questions about loan forgiveness and other incentives.
“We know that they need us here, but how are they going to keep us?”