Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Nurses at work up in B.C., yet number of graduates down

The number of registered nurses working in B.C. is up slightly, according to a new federal report, but the number of nursing school graduates is dropping.
VKA nurses 1042.jpg
Nurses from Victoria and the Lower Mainland gathered outside the legislature last month to demand that more nurses be hired by 2016 to fill vacancies and backfill during absences.

The number of registered nurses working in B.C. is up slightly, according to a new federal report, but the number of nursing school graduates is dropping.

Despite efforts to increase the supply of nurses in the province by educating more, there were 1,307 nursing graduates in 2013, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). That compares to 1,534 in 2012, and 1,370 in 2011. It is the lowest number of graduates since 2010.

There were 32,494 RNs in the B.C. workforce in 2014, slightly higher than in 2013 (31,799), according to CIHI. But the College of Registered Nurses of B.C. has different numbers, with its website showing there are 34,658 RNs registered to work in B.C., lower than each of the three previous years. There are about 9,000 licensed practical nurses in B.C.

CIHI says the supply of nurses across the country has declined for the first time in nearly 20 years. More nurses left the profession than went into it in 2014. In B.C., non-practising RN numbers have been climbing every year, largely due to nurses retiring.

Karima Velji, president of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), said in a statement: “The sum of all the numbers is a tightening nursing labour market. Immediate action is needed to stave off the potentially long-lasting trend of a shrinking (registered nurse) workforce and its consequences for population health.”

Across the country, 27,757 nurses let their licences lapse last year.

The supply of nurses dropped in six jurisdictions: Newfoundland and Labrador (down 0.7 per cent), Prince Edward Island (down 3.5 per cent), New Brunswick (down 0.9 per cent), Ontario (down 2.6 per cent), B.C. (down 0.9 per cent), and the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, which, together, had a decrease of 3.2 per cent.

The B.C. Nurses Union, which represents RNs and licensed practical nurses, says it is of great concern that full-time RN nursing jobs have been declining for five years while casual nursing jobs have doubled. Union vice-president Christine Sorensen said she finds the latest report concerning but not surprising because nurses’ representatives have been issuing warnings for years.

“We have a perfect storm coming between the population aging, an aging nursing workforce, and nurses retiring. We have been complacent around planning for health system pressures, and we’ve been asking governments for human resource planning for years.”

Zak Matieschyn, president of the Association of Registered Nurses of B.C., said falling numbers of RNs was “prophesied” five to 10 years ago, and this may be the start of a disturbing trend.

“It’s frightening, but not altogether surprising. Nurses are the backbone of the health care system, so who is going to provide all the care that’s needed with the population aging?”

He said the drop in nursing students is also a concern and he believes that may be related to a shortage in nursing faculty members. He said there are at least 100 vacancies for faculty positions.

Sarah Plank, a spokeswoman for the provincial ministry of health, said that since 2001, the province has invested more than $200 million to educate, recruit and retain nurses.

“The number of nurse education spaces in B.C. has more than doubled since 2001, with over 4,600 new spaces added to train registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses, specialty nurses, nurses re-entering the workforce, licensed practical nurses and nurses with graduate degrees.

“We do know there is a challenge in recruiting for some specialty nursing positions,” she said, noting that there are currently about 250 “difficult to fill” nurse vacancies in the province.