An increasing number of nurses and nursing students are leaving the profession due to poor pay, a lack of support, violence at work, and a lack of control over their hours, according to nursing unions in Ontario.
Emily Lagacé, who is in her final year in the registered nursing program at Algonquin College, said many of her fellow students have dropped out of the program because they can't handle the stress of the job.
"As a nurse, you know people are going to die. We're handling sick, injured people," Lagacé said.
"I have seen family aggression toward nurses when something isn't going right, or miscommunication."
Lagacé said she plans to stay in the field of nursing until retirement despite all of these issues and hardships the profession faces, because she believes it is worth it in the end.
A recent report from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union (CFNU) states 94 per cent of nurses are suffering from symptoms of burnout and 45 per cent of nurses are experiencing severe burnout, which is up from the 29 per cent pre-pandemic.
CFNU said there were more than 34,000 nursing vacancies (excluding nurse practitioners) and 126,000 health-care and social assistance sector vacancies — an all-time high — in the fourth quarter of 2021. That's an increase of 133 per cent in two years.
New nurses leave within first 2 years
According to Chris McGarvey, organizer of the Canadian Nurses Foundation, and Sylvain Brousseau, president of the Canadian Nurses Association, Canada loses anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of newly-graduated nurses within the first two years of entering the profession.
Brousseau said this is because of aggression and violence nurses face while on the clock. He said nurses do not receive enough support with their mental health.
"We see some reducing personal self concept and self confidence of the new grads," said Brousseau.
He added that all studies in the last 30 years have shown that when you have a lack of support, you have no structure.
"You need to optimize the nursing workforce [and] support continuing nursing education," he said.
Workload too heavy
Dr. Claudette Holloway, the president of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO), said nurses and student nurses are finding the workload too heavy.
"[Ontario] came into the pandemic 22,000 nurses short, way beyond other provinces," said Holloway.
Holloway also said nurses are not receiving enough support and they want more control over their hours. She blames Bill 124 in Ontario for causing an exodus of nurses.
"[The bill] drastically affects [the nursing crisis] across the province," Holloway stated.
Bill 124 was a law passed in 2019, which limits wage increases to one per cent per year for Ontario Public Service employees, including nurses. Holloway said nurses have been petitioning the provincial government to repeal it.
"Nurses are human beings. We've seen politicians call them heroes. We're not heroes. We're human beings. We have feelings, we need to be valued," said Holloway.