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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More nurses graduating but still can't meet demand in Canada, report says

TORONTO - For the first time in 30 years, the number of nurses graduating in Canada has exceeded 9,000, but the total still falls short of the number needed to meet current and future demand, says a new report.

There were 9,447 nursing graduates last year, says the report released Wednesday by the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing and the Canadian Nurses Association.

"It's nice to see that there's progress being made because we experienced a real decline in the number of nursing education seats some years ago," says Marlene Smadu, president of the CNA, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

She noted that it's not just a simple matter of adding individual spots, because for the growth to occur, there also has to be more faculty and clinical placements.

"We're quite pleased that the jurisdictions who are responsible for education nursing are moving forward with increasing the seats," Smadu said from Ottawa, where nurses are meeting this week.

"But as you can see from the report, we're still falling short of the 12,000 that we believe we need to be graduating every year to deal with the health human resource needs in Canada."

Ontario and British Columbia were the two provinces with the largest percentage increases in nursing graduates last year.

Smadu noted that for many years, B.C. educated only about half of its nurses because the province was easily able to attract trained nurses from elsewhere.

"Now their government has taken a distinct policy direction to say they do need to move toward self-sufficiency," she said.

All provinces posted increases in the number of grads last year, except Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, she said.

At the annual general meeting of the Canadian Nurses Association, there were discussions about employers going to other countries to recruit.

"We call those internationally educated nurses, and Canada has always been a mosaic and we've always had people from other countries come in," Smadu said.

"But we're very concerned about not depleting the nursing resources in countries, especially developing countries, where without the nurses, their health system would completely collapse."

She said that as a rich country, Canada needs to ensure it is self-sufficient.

"We recognize that there will be global mobility and that Canadian nurses move and work other places, and nurses in other countries want to come here," said Smadu, who teaches at the University of Saskatchewan.

"But we at least have to make the commitment that we're going to educate sufficient numbers to deal with the population health needs that we have in Canada."

There's no shortage of Canadians wanting to enrol, with two and three times the number of applicants as there are funded seats, she said.

She noted her program calls for a 70 per cent average, but because the number of qualified applicants is so high, it takes an 82 or 83 per cent average for a high-school student to get accepted.

Kirsten Woodend, director of the School of Nursing and associate dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ottawa University, said 2,200 applications have been received for this September, and they will not fill more than 399 seats.

"Our application numbers have been climbing gradually over the past years," she said.

"We will be turning away a large number of eligible applicants."

Most students are offered jobs before they complete their degrees, she said.

For instance, Woodend said an official at the Ottawa Hospital has mentioned she needs 700 nurses.

"We had about 300 graduates this year, and the largest hospital in our region - we can't meet their needs for hiring. I haven't even listed all of the other facilities in our region that want nurses."

At some nursing schools, fast-track programs allow students to graduate in 22 to 24 months if they already have another degree, or finish sooner by taking summer classes.

Meanwhile, the CNA is calling for the health-care system to speed up the introduction of electronic health records.

"We're so far behind in a system that costs Canadian citizens billions of dollars - we need to have that infrastructure. For nurses it means being able to have the right information at the right time at their fingertips as they're caring for patients."

© The Canadian Press, 2008



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