Dalhousie nursing students told to work in long-term care rather than do clinical practicum

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WATCH: Nova Scotia Health has reached out to university students for nursing help in the long-term care sector. Dalhousie's nursing program has said it will cancel classes and send students to work. The decision has left some students frustrated with the demands and a lack of compensation. Amber Fryday reports. – Jan 27, 2022

Editor’s note: Since this article was published, the province has announced students working in long-term care will receive a $1,000 honorarium.

Dalhousie University nursing students have been informed that they will work in long-term care instead of doing their scheduled clinical practicums due to a major nursing shortage.

According to a letter sent to Semester 4 nursing students signed by class representatives Marika Giovannoni and Abbey Nichols, all classes will be suspended starting on Feb. 7 for a two-week period “while we all do a two week clinical rotation in long-term care.”

The letter, obtained by Global News, said this two-week period will replace the rotation the students were supposed to have at the end of the semester. After the two weeks, students will go directly to reading week, before returning to regular class the following week.

Nova Scotia Health had reached out to Dalhousie asking for help, the letter said.

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“As many of you are aware there is a significant nursing shortage in Nova Scotia right now,” it said. “This is been especially bad in the long-term care facilities and NSH is expecting it to deteriorate further in February.”

Unpaid work

The letter also said the work “will not look exactly the same as the last rotation we did.”

“Because we are trying to be of help to the long term care facilities, the shifts will not be standard 8-5; they will most likely be 12 hour shifts but can be during any 24 hour time frame, 7 days a week,” it said.

“Our weekly hours will be around 40 although we cannot be guaranteed that it will be exactly that.”

Read more: N.S. premier hopes to begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions in February

It said students will be taking on semi-independent roles within the scope of what they’ve learned to date, and will not be left alone on a shift without support.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia extending restrictions for 2 more weeks' Nova Scotia extending restrictions for 2 more weeks
Nova Scotia extending restrictions for 2 more weeks – Jan 26, 2022

The students will not be compensated for their work, similar to regular practicums.

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Speaking at cabinet Thursday, Barbara Adams, the minister of seniors and long-term care, said the sector is in a serious crisis at the height of the Omicron wave of COVID-19 and staff are overwhelmed.

“As a former student myself, we were unpaid,” she told reporters. “It’s part of your training and we’d hope they’d understand that.”

Adams could not say how many students will be helping out in the province’s nursing homes.

Read more: Pfizer’s new COVID-19 drug is in Nova Scotia. How will it be used?

Some students have expressed concern online about not being compensated for their time and not getting the education they’d receive during practicum.

“I for one feel like it is extremely unfair, they are essentially sacrificing our education for free labour,” one student wrote on Facebook, noting the high cost of university tuition.

“We should be getting the educational experience we deserve and PAY for, and if not then they should be paying us.”

Read more: COVID-19: N.S. searches for more long-term care workers during staff shortage

The letter said a student-only virtual meeting will be held on Friday afternoon to address concerns.

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“I know that this may come as a huge surprise to most of us and it will mean some major schedule changes,” the letter said. “Dal Nursing will appreciate our patience at this time.”

Global News requested interviews with Dalhousie University and the Dalhousie University Nursing Society and is awaiting a response.

55 more long-term care workers

Meanwhile, Minister Adams said the province’s efforts to recruit more long-term care staff has so far brought in dozens of workers from across Nova Scotia.

Last week, the province asked health professionals currently not in the workforce to apply to work in long-term care.

Adams said since then, more than 100 people reached out and 55 have been placed.

“I want to thank all of the Nova Scotians who did respond to the call,” she said, adding that she has also put her name forward to be assigned.

— with files from Amber Fryday

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