Health Reform and Nursing

Text Size: Normal / Medium / Large
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version


By Glenda Doerkson

I have nursed for over thirty years and loved it. Nursing is not a job that you do from nine to five it's our identity.

We're caregivers, our family's chief medical advisor, and a resource for friends, even strangers.

There is nothing like knowing you helped someone through a crisis, or handed a child into the arms of an awestruck mother. It's worth the shift work, missing Christmas with your family, working nights and weekends.

Because of this, I really want to be able to say something positive about health reform and nursing. But I cannot.

We were allowed no input into the process, even though we, as front line workers, were the largest group affected by the changes.

Let me share with you my own experiences. I am a registered nurse who has worked on the obstetrical (childbirth) unit at a large rural hospital in Manitoba for sixteen years.

Because the majority of our patients were teenaged and single, the nurses on the unit began a family-centred teaching program to help our new mothers become effective parents. Down the hall was the very busy surgical ward and directly below us a brand new pediatric ward, both staffed with highly qualified and committed nurses.

Then came reform.

The units were amalgamated, chemotherapy beds added, and nursing staff cut by one third. We have experienced six rounds of staff changes deletions and bumping.

Those of us who are left are forced to work in all three areas with no adequate orientation. And at the same time, because of new early-discharge policies, the number of serious cases at one time has
increased dramatically.

It is impossible to have expertise in so many areas. We lost several excellent nurses and those left are burned out.

Today nurses feel devalued, frustrated and exhausted. There is no longer any time (or funding) for the caring part of nursing, or patient teaching.

Morale has never been lower.

Both full-time and part-time nurses work a great deal of overtime.

Today, of the 260,000 registered nurses in Canada only 4000 are under the age of 25. The average age of a nurse in Canada is 47. We do not have a nursing shortage in this country, we have a crisis. Our older bodies are breaking under the strain.

Is there opportunity for change? Yes.

Something has to be done to change nursing back to the rewarding, fulfilling profession it once was. Wages and working conditions must improve to make nursing attractive to young people.

Last year the University of Manitoba could not fill about one hundred spaces in its entry nursing class. And most students enrolled in the program plan to go to the United States.

The Manitoba government launched a $7 million fund to attract nurses back to Manitoba. But all the travel money in the world will not attract nurses back until we fix the reasons they left in the first place.

Glenda Doerkson, R.N., works at the Dauphin Regional Health Centre. Her article is based upon a presentation she did at Health Reform for Women: Opportunities for Change, a Manitoban forum held in Winnipeg.

April 1998 Manitoba Nurses' Union of over 5100 nurses:

  • Forty-seven per cent reported three or more symptoms of burnout such as depression, exhaustion and sleeping disorders.
  • Fifty-five per cent said they would pursue another career than nursing and 69% said they would not recommend nursing as a career choice (this year's survey increased that number to 76%).