Reasons for the Nursing Shortage in Canada

Nursing is one of the oldest professions and a key element to every healthcare system. Nursing is generally regarded as a demanding, skilled, respected, and fairly high-paying profession in Canada. In fact, the average salary for a nurse is $71,398/year, which is higher than the national average of $54,630/year

There are over 430,000 nurses across Canada, making up a large segment of the healthcare workforce. But despite a large number of nurses and being well-payed, Canada is facing a nursing shortage. 

To illustrate this shortage, a recent report states that there were 1,000 nursing vacancies in the Ottawa region, an all-time high. They have to bring workers from outside the region to support the population of the city. A study also indicated that the nursing workforce decreased by 1.5% from 2018-2019.

This nursing shortage is primarily being driven by the large number of nurses retiring from the profession and not enough new nurses entering the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic required more nurses than ever before in public health and felt the pinch of the nursing shortage. 

However, the pandemic had a positive side – nursing schools across the country saw an increase in applications after 2020, indicating that the pandemic inspired more people to join the profession. A recent report states that the University of British Columbia saw a 31% increase in nursing applicants and in Ontario as a whole there was a 17.5% increase.

Despite this increase in new nursing applicants, there is still a nursing shortage in Canada. Let’s look a little further at the driving factors of this shortage.

Why nurses are leaving their jobs

The nursing shortage is created by too many nurses leaving their profession and not enough new nurses are taking those spots. So, let’s look at some of the reasons nurses are leaving the profession.

  1. Retiring Nurses

The first reason nurses are leaving the profession is simply through retiring. This happens in all industries, of course, so it is to be expected. The majority of nurses are in the mid-career age; 48% of nurses are aged 35-54. On average, nurses retire earlier than the general population in Canada, which means they have less time in the workforce.

  1. Nursing Burnout

Another reason nurses are leaving the profession is because of burnout. Nursing can be a demanding job with long hours and challenging work. The COVID-19 pandemic was particularly challenging and draining for many healthcare professionals, including nurses. 

A statement from one of Ontario’s nursing unions has been released warning that many nurses are planning on quitting or leaving their profession due to the stress and challenges of working during COVID-19.

  1. Poor Retention Efforts

Some nurses are leaving their profession because retention efforts by hospitals and other employers have not been good enough to keep them. This is primarily because of the disparity in pay between different nurses. 

In a recent article, a spokesperson from the Canadian Nurses Association highlights the fact that nurses who work in long-term care homes are not compensated equally to nurses who work in hospitals. Additionally, the incentives to work in rural communities are not good enough to encourage nurses to live and work there. This leads to a lack of nurses seeking out such positions or high turnover due to lack of pay.

Why there aren’t enough new nurses

The other side of the nursing-shortage coin is that there just aren’t enough new nurses filling the spots of those who are leaving. Let’s look at the reasons why this is. 

  1. Limited Spots in Nursing Schools

As mentioned earlier, there has been an increase in interest in applying to nursing school. However, that doesn’t mean there are enough spots to accommodate all of that interest. At the University of British Columbia, there were 860 applicants for just 120 nursing spots for the September 2021 intake.

Although provinces are making efforts to increase the number of spots, there are limitations due to funding, instructor shortages, and the general logistics of increasing the size of nursing schools.

  1. Clinical Placement Shortages

Along with the limited spots in nursing schools, a recent report also highlights the shortage of clinical placements. Clinical placements are integral to a nursing student’s education, giving them first-hand experience in a hospital setting. These hands-on opportunities were also significantly limited during the COVID-19 pandemic as many hospitals or other healthcare settings were limiting in-person contact to reduce the potential spread of the virus.

There needs to be a concentrated effort to increase the clinical placement and practicum opportunities for nursing students so that they can get adequate education before entering the workforce.

  1. Lack of Nursing Educators

Compounding the issue of not having enough nursing school spots or clinical placement opportunities is the fact that there is a shortage of qualified educators and instructors. Nursing faculty need to have a PhD in Nursing, and there are currently more nursing faculty with PhDs who are retiring than new PhDs entering nursing academia.

The associate dean at the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s nursing school stated that many nursing faculty are expected to retire within the next five years, which will further contribute to the shortage of faculty, thus the shortage of graduating nurses. 

The way forward

This news about the nursing shortage in Canada can seem bleak. After all, nursing is an essential profession and needed in the Canadian healthcare system. The good news is that this problem is widely known and there are already efforts being made to address this shortage.

Some hospitals are offering hiring bonuses and other incentives for new hires, especially those who are going to work in remote areas. Additionally, the shortage of nurses means that there are great job opportunities for nurses. With the prospect of being able to get a high-paying job relatively easily, perhaps more and more nursing candidates will join the profession.

No matter how we move forward, it’s important to first understand the reasons for the nursing shortage in Canada. Then, plans can be made to address this and ensure a strong, healthy workforce of nurses in Canada.

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