MONTREAL — Efforts to lure nurses from other provinces are underway in several parts of the country, but the head of a national nurses association says the poaching won't solve anything unless working conditions are improved.
"We know that nurses are facing inadequate working conditions, and that is the main reason many are leaving their jobs," Sylvain Brousseau, the president of the Canadian Nurses Association, said in an interview Thursday. "If working conditions and retention are not the focus, the new nurses recruited from other provinces may find themselves wanting to leave their jobs."
This week, Horizon Health Network, one of New Brunswick's two health authorities, held three-day recruiting events in Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Its pitch to attract 120 nurses to the province includes the promise of an appealing life near the ocean with financial incentives of up to $20,000.
A spokesperson said recruiting from outside of New Brunswick isn't new, and that it's also hiring nurses through partnerships with universities in Maine and in India, as well as taking steps to retain workers. The province's other regional health authority, Vitalité Health Network, says it will be attending several career fairs in Quebec in the coming weeks.
Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that the province will start automatically recognizing the credentials of health-care workers registered in other provinces and territories. "A doctor from British Columbia or a nurse from Quebec who wants to come and work in Ontario shouldn't face barriers or bureaucratic delays to start providing care,'' Ford told a Jan. 19 news conference.
Newfoundland and Labrador has introduced incentives in an effort to lure home health-care workers with connections to the province, while Quebec said it's looking to recruit internationally.
"All provinces in Canada face the same challenge of a shortage of labour in their health-care systems," the office of Health Minister Christian Dubé said in a statement. "It's in everyone's interest to recruit people internationally. Meanwhile, we continue to work so that our network becomes an employer of choice and to improve working conditions."
Brousseau said nurses need better pay, more support staff — so they can focus on caring for patients — and responsibility for fewer patients.
"Thirty years ago on surgery, I had six patients during the day, seven to eight on the evening shift and 12 on night shift, and now it's 15 during the day in surgery in some places, or 10. This is too much," he said.
Brosseau said he'd also like to see an end to practices like mandatory overtime, which remains common in Quebec, and nurses being pressured to work ostensibly optional overtime shifts.
He said the nurses association isn't opposed to nurses going to another province to work and that it has been calling for a reduction of barriers between provinces — but that won't fix the problems.
"It's not by going to poach nurses from one province to (another) that you will solve the health-care system crisis that we are going through right now," he said. "It's by giving them better working conditions and a better health-care environment."
Ivy Lynn Bourgeault, a University of Ottawa professor and director of the Canadian Health Workforce Network, said the efforts to recruit nurses across provincial boundaries are a symptom of a wider problem.
While it's not the first time Canadian health-care systems have looked to other parts of the country for staff, the shortage of nurses and other health-care workers is worse than before.
"I think what is new is the extent of the problem and that every province is in these circumstances, and this is not just a Canadian problem. This is happening across the world," she said in an interview Thursday.
Solving Canada's nursing shortage needs to start with retention, she argues; recruitment alone can't solve it. "It's focusing on one part of the challenge, of bringing more in, and we're not looking at all of those who are leaving," she said. "It's not a long-term strategy."
Bourgeault said governments need better data for workforce planning and that federal agencies, such as the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada, could be used to give provinces better tools.
Mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios would also help retain nurses, she said, but they could in the short term lead to longer wait times.
"I think that as a society, we need to have a crucial conversation about how we manage this crisis going forward," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press