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In-demand nurses struggle in tight job market in Canada

05-12-2011 14:27 BJT

VANCOUVER, May 11 (Xinhua) -- International Nursing Day on Thursday marks a time to universally celebrate a group of special caregivers who despite their often busy workloads, give so much of themselves to ensure a patient' s visit to a hospital or a walk-in clinic, among others, is as comfortable as possible.

Started in America in 1965, the annual celebration is held specifically on May 12 to mark the birth of Florence Nightingale. In the mid-1800s, the celebrated English nurse elevated the status of the profession by overhauling the nursing and healthcare systems, primarily through greater detail to hygiene and sanitation measures.

Her work was credited with saving thousands of soldier lives during the Crimean War (1853-1856) and a service will be held in memory in London' s Westminster Abbey Thursday where a lamp will be passed on, a tip to her habit for making the rounds of hospital wards at night.

Just over 100 years after Nightingale' s death - she passed in 1910 at the age of 90 - Janice Buchanan, vice-president of the Burnaby-based British Columbia Nurses Union, told Xinhua despite a looming shortage of trained professionals as the baby boom generation gets set to retire over the next five to 10 years, many new graduate nurses in the western Canadian province were having difficulty securing regular full-time work.

"What we are experiencing right now in British Columbia, and across the country, is real change in the skill mix. They' re hiring a lot of lesser skilled healthcare workers in place of registered nurses and that' s really driven by dollars. It' s not so much driven by what makes sense for the best care for patients, but it' s a money saving initiative."

Buchanan, who trained to be nurse after having three children and started in the profession in 1982, said the workload for B.C. nurses has never been worse.

"It' s crushing workloads and often times nurses are faced working short on the wards, overcapacity, which is actually patients being nursed in hallways because there is not enough acute care beds, adds to the workload for nurses. Workload is a huge issue for nurses and the skill mix change has added to that."

In downtown Vancouver at St. Paul' s Hospital, a facility operated by Providence Healthcare, director of nursing Barb Lawrie said Canada had about 330,000 nurses, but 20 to 30 percent of them would be retiring over the next decade. With new graduates unable to secure full-time positions, it was essential to get them into the profession as soon as possible to learn from the expertise of those outgoing.

Despite the challenges facing graduate nurses, Lawrie still highly recommended the profession, a job, she said, comes with "great privilege and great rewards."

"There is a shortage, but we' ve had a bit of a blip with the recession, so at the moment we have had lower vacancies than we have had for a while. I think our challenge is going to be in a year or two when that blip changes. We' re going to have a greater shortage than we' ve had for a long time in nursing and (it will be) harder to recruit because we aren' t able to recruit now because we' ve filled all our positions."

In a country where it' s common to see foreign-trained professionals working for minimum wage as a convenience store clerk, only because their qualifications and work experience haven' t been recognized in their adopted homeland, in the past couple of years Canada has moved to rectify the situation.

Last year, Canada started streamlining foreign credential recognition in eight target occupations, registered nurses among them. This year, the framework was expanded to include licensed practical nurses and physicians, among others.

Under the country' s "Economic Action Plan," introduced in 2009, the federal government is working with the individual provinces and territories to address barriers to foreign credential recognition. The main premise is to quickly get foreign trained professionals working, exercising their skills in the jobs they have been trained for.

"There' s been a lot of work in Canada to bring those international nurses to Canada. We want those international nurses, we recognize the value," Lawrie said. "We are trying to work with the College of Registered Nurses (in Vancouver) to make that it' s an easier process and to do more to ensure that they are able to do more of that in their own country before they come to Canada.

"We provide care to an incredibly diverse population. It is in our best interests to have a diverse nursing population to assist in providing that care."

As has been an International Nurses Day tradition, each year has a different theme. This year the message is "Closing the gap: increasing access and equality." It is a universal theme simply stating that greater access to health care will lead to an improved overall well-being for all and increased life capacity in the process.

The BCNU' s Buchanan said the union strongly believes and champions that universal, accessible healthcare is the right of every citizen.

"They should never be dependent on their ability to pay and you know we' re struggling with that. Our health care system right now, and I can really only speak for B.C. because that' s what I' m familiar with, but I do know across Canada at issue is the underfunding of health care and the pressures of sort of privatizing. A lot of privatization of the health care system is happening and that' s a real concern because that really does limit universal access for sure."

Exiting St. Paul Hospital on the way to his next appointment, Dr. Stephen Pinney, an orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon, encouraged people to give a thought to the work of nurses on their day of honor as it was an underappreciated profession.

"We (doctors) do our best to appreciate them as much as we can, but I don' t think the general public fully appreciates all that they do for health care in the province," he said. "There are a number of situations where we would really benefit from more nurses. I know that that is an issue."


Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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