Despite hundreds of job openings for registered nurses in the province, new graduates who speak French say red tape is making it difficult for them to put their education and training to use.
"It's just obstacle after obstacle after obstacle," said Marie-Ève Beaulieu, a British Columbia native who is graduating from University of Moncton and wants to stay and work in New Brunswick.
"I'm at the point I'm wondering, 'Do they really want me? Do they need me?'"
Beaulieu said she and many of her classmates from U of M tried to register to take the next licensing exam as soon as they finished their program this spring and were allowed to do so.
But they found there were no available slots left to write it in New Brunswick this summer.
Nova Scotia offers more
The only scheduled opportunity is in Fredericton in June, she said.
The exam is also offered in Halifax almost every day of the year, but "because of COVID-19 restrictions, that's not an option for us," said Beaulieu.
Another complicating factor is that the exam is happening earlier than usual.
"It's extremely stressful," she said.
The normal stress of graduating, starting a new job and taking the notoriously tough registered nursing exam is compounded, said Beaulieu, by the fact the exam date keeps changing, and she has less time to study for it than she thought she'd have.
"It's almost unhealthy," she said.
A nurse licensing exam is usually offered in July, said Beaulieu. And that's when this year's graduating classes were originally told it would be.
Having a couple of months to prepare is very important to the U of M students. Beaulieu and classmate Jenny Tremblay said they feel like they basically have to relearn four years worth of material in English before they take the test.
The exam is available in French, but in the past there have been problems with the translation and the pass rate has been low.
Then last month, the exam date was rescheduled to May. And now it's supposed to happen in June.
The earlier timing also puts some U of M students in a tough spot because of the structure of their program.
Tremblay has just completed her clinical training and still doesn't have permission to even register for an exam.
"Unfortunately right now, there's no date available that would benefit me," she said.
She expects she may have to wait until October.
Nurses group working on it
Tremblay said she'd like the Nurses Association of New Brunswick to arrange more exam dates for July and August.
"I would love for them to maybe reach out to us so we can find an understanding," she said.
The association is working on getting a second opportunity for New Brunswick students to write the exam, probably in late August, said executive director Laurie Janes Wednesday afternoon.
"I completely understand it would be anxiety-provoking for the nurse graduates," said Janes.
Janes suggested COVID case spikes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are to blame for the limitations and fluctuations.
She expects to have clarity in the next week or so and said the details will be communicated to anyone who has applied to write the exam.
Janes said she was concerned to hear new grads still talking about the quality of the French translation.
Two independent reviews with expert Service New Brunswick translators have found it to be satisfactory, she said.
Janes acknowledged there were problems when the exam was new but said she doesn't hear many official complaints about it these days.
"When students report issues we try to get specific information and review it with the exam developer and make necessary corrections," she said.
She added that practising francophone nurses and educators can provide input on the exam questions, and there are fully bilingual study resources available.
"We strongly advise them to choose the language of their choice," she said.
700 job openings
New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet said last month that there were nearly 700 job openings for registered nurses with the two health authorities.
"We understand employers want nurses registered quickly," said Janes.
Graduates are able to work on temporary licences, but they aren't allowed to supervise a unit or administer certain medications without RN supervision.
The University of New Brunswick and University of Moncton are expecting just shy of 300 nursing grads this spring, she said.
And typically, about 92 per cent them stay and work in New Brunswick.