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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Shortage of nurses looms across Canada

B.C. could lose 32% of its nurses in three years if they retire at age 55

Aileen McCabe

CanWest News Service
Wednesday, July 30, 2003

OTTAWA -- Canada can expect to lose nearly 30,000 registered nurses, 13 per cent of the workforce, to retirement and death over the next three years -- and that's the best case scenario.

According to a study released Tuesday, if the trend of nurses taking early retirement at 55 continues a pace, the numbers lost could more than double that, to above 64,000, or 28 per cent of the RN workforce in 2001.

Complicating the problem is the fact that the rate of growth in the number of registered nurses was only 1.1 per cent between 1997 and 2001. That's less than the population growth in general and means Canada already has a decreasing number of nurses per person. In 2001 there were 74.1 nurses per 10,000 population, down from 75.9 in 1997.

More critical still is the prospect that the diminishing number of nurses will disproportionately affect the long-term care sector, just as aging baby boomers ensure it becomes one of the more crucial parts of the health system.


The study, released on Tuesday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, found that if nurses could be persuaded to abandon early retirement and work until 65, by 2006 Quebec will lose still 16 per cent of its nurses, British Columbia 14 per cent, Ontario 12 per cent, Manitoba and Saskatchewan 11 per cent, the Atlantic provinces 10 per cent and Alberta nine per cent.

If, however, the lure of Freedom 55 is too great, British Columbia will lose the most RNs, with a whopping 32 per cent predicted to leave the workforce. Ontario is a close second with a loss of 29 per cent predicted, Alberta follows with 28 per cent, Manitoba and Saskatchewan with 27 per cent, Quebec with 26 per cent and Atlantic Canada with 22 per cent.

In an interview, the author of the report, Dr. Linda O'Brien-Pallas, a professor of nursing at the University of Toronto, said there was still time to reverse at least the worst of the dwindling numbers if the problems nurses face in their workplaces start to be addressed immediately.

"Although the results [of the study] are somewhat shocking, it might be the momentum we need right now in this country to help policy makers and people who manage nurses to recognize it is time to pay attention to the worklife issues if we want to retain senior nurses in the workforce," O'Brien-Pallas said.

Interestingly, money was not one of the incentives O'Brien-Pallas listed when she considered ways to convince nurses to forego early retirement and work until they are 65.


She said the more important factors are reducing workload, making sure the working environment is safe and finding a way to make nurses feel valued.

Right now, O'Brien-Pallas said too much of a nurse's time is taken up with non-nursing duties -- like moving furniture and calling labs -- because there is no one else to do them.

She stressed that as the nursing population ages -- nearly one-third of RNs in Canada are 50 or older --more consideration has to be given to coping with the physical aspects of the job that regularly leave nurses with strained and pulled muscles.

Finally, O'Brien-Pallas claimed that a simple "thanks," a pat on the back and an appreciation of all the work a nurse is doing would go a long way toward creating the kind of working environment RNs would happily continue in until they are 65.

Rob Calnan, president of the Canadian Association of Nurses, adds that the fact that so many nursing jobs are now part-time and casual employment instead of full-time positions also has to be reversed and that more emphasis has to be placed on flexible working hours. As the nursing population ages, he said, alternatives have to be found for the traditional long, unsociable shifts in most hospitals.

About 43 per cent of Canadians opt for early retirement. Studies have indicated that in the health care field that number jumps to 49 per cent. O'Brien-Pallas said that among RNs the usual retirement age is now 56 to 58 years.

"We're losing experience, and experience counts for the quality of care in our health system," Calnan warned.

He also pointed out that there are not enough entry level nurses to replace all the retirees. In 1990, he said, 10,000 nurses graduated. This year, there were only 4,900 across the country.

Of those, Calnan said, if recent trends continue, 10 per cent will leave Canada to work because they cannot find permanent, full-time jobs at home and another 20 per cent will drop out of nursing because of the kind of workplace issues O'Brien-Pallas identified.

Tuesday's study is just one of several over the past year to highlight the crisis in nursing in Canada and Calnan maintained there is now enough of a "convergence" in the findings to call for a "bold plan of action" from governments to deal with the problems plaguing the profession.

© Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun