Over 75% of Canadian nurses burnt out, RNAO survey finds

A health-care worker walks past a thank you sign in the intensive care unit at the Humber River Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Tuesday, January 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A new survey conducted by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) has found that over 75 per cent of Canada’s nurses are “burnt out.”

According to a news release, the RNAO conducted the survey between May and July of 2021, “during the height of Ontario’s third wave” of COVID-19, and collected responses from 5,200 nurses in Canada — most of which were from Ontario.

The report, titled Nursing Through Crisis: A Comparative Perspective, found that more than 75 per cent of Canadian nurses who responded to the survey were classified as “burnt out,” with higher percentages reported among those in hospital and front-line workers.

Story continues below advertisement

“This widespread burnout provides some insight about what life is like for a large percentage of Canadian nurses,” the report reads. “It also implies that leaving their position or their profession may be a future reality for these nurses.”

However, when asked, only 26.2 per cent of nurses surveyed said they had taken time off of work to manage stress, anxiety or other mental health issues related to working during the pandemic, or to prevent or deal with burnout.

What’s more, a total of 69 per cent of nurses surveyed said they planned to leave their position within five years.

Of those who said the wanted to leave their position, 42 per cent said they would leave the nursing profession all together, would seek opportunities elsewhere or would retire.

The survey also found that 73 per cent of nurses said their workloads had increased “moderately or significantly” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sixty per cent of nurses said they were “moderately or extremely concerned about staffing levels, while 53 per cent said that they were “moderately or extremely” concerned about workloads.

Only 34 per cent of respondents said they felt they had adequate support services to spend time with patients or clients.

Story continues below advertisement

While the survey found that nurses in all sectors of the practice struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital and front-line nurses reported the highest levels of depression, anxiety, stress and burnout.

CEO of RNAO Dr. Doris Grinspun called the numbers “both sobering and alarming” adding that they “represent a call to action for the government, health employers, educators and nursing associates.”

In the press release, the RNAO said the survey highlights the “instability in the nursing profession that, left unchecked, will have profound impacts on the profession, the effective functioning of the health system and the quality of care Ontarians receive.”

Included in the report were a number of recommendations which include:

  • Repealing Bill 124 and refraining from extending or imposing further wage restraint measures.
  • Increasing the registered nurse workforce by expediting applications and finding pathways for 26,000 internationally educated nurses living in Ontario to join the workforce.
  • Increasing enrollments and funding for baccalaureate nursing programs,
  • Developing and fund a Return to Nursing Now program to attract registered nurses back to Ontario’s workforce
  • Expanding the Nursing Graduate Guarantee, reinstate the Late Career Nurse Initiative and bring back retired registered nurses to serve as mentors.
  • Establishing a nursing task force to make recommendations on retention and recruitment of registered nurses.

Grinspun said without a “detailed health human resources plan that is laser-focused on retaining nurses in the profession and building Ontarios RN workforce, people’s health and the system’s ability to operate effectively are in danger.”

Story continues below advertisement

The survey found that the top retention factor for nurses planning to leave the profession was offering better workplace supports, at 68.3 per cent.

A total of 63.3 per cent said reduced workload was a top retention factor, while 58.3 per cent said the ability to adjust their work schedule was a top factor.

Improved benefits and better career development opportunities were also among the top retention factors at 55.4 per cent and 43.4 per cent, respectively.

President of RNAO Morgan Hoffarth said the association’s call to increase the province’s registered nurse workforce has been backed by the Ontario Hospital Association, Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission, Colleges Ontario and the Council of Ontario Universities.

In a statement in the release, Hoffarth said nurses play a “central role in the lives of Ontarians, in health and in illness.”

“That’s why we need to ensure that all nurses feel valued. And, we must pay unique attention to RNs – who are the ones exiting the profession en masse,” she said. “We know nurses are committed and have vital expertise, compassion and skills to share. What we need is sustained effort to retain the nurses we have, and ensure welcoming workplaces for new graduates and others who join the profession.”

Story continues below advertisement

Hoffarth said the “silver lining” is that there has been a 35 per cent in applications to baccalaureate nursing programs across Ontario.

The RNAO said it is launching four program to help address nurses’ needs for better workplace supports by offering more professional development opportunities and “more control over their working lives.”

The association said it is launching the Advanced Clinical Practice Fellowship program, the Leadership and Management for Nurses program, the Mentorship for Nurses program and the Nursing Student Preceptor for Long-Term Care program.

Sponsored content