Nursing students at Dalhousie University are wondering why a province desperate for nurses didn't approach them sooner.
Students in their final year of study say they met with recruiters about jobs last week — after the students say they took the initiative to reach out.
"The nursing society here had to pay for the room, for NSHA to come talk to us," said Kaley Richard, co-president of the Dalhousie University Nursing Society.
"So we're actually spending student money to have this happen."
Nova Scotia Health told CBC News it initially offered to cover any costs, and wasn't informed there was a fee to use the room.
Richard has just two more clinical placements to finish before she graduates from Dalhousie's nursing program.
With just a few months left in her program, she's spent a lot of time trying to find out how to get a job in Nova Scotia.
'Confusing and vague'
She said the information was vague. "It should seemingly be so easy," she said.
"While [Nova Scotia's health authority] does have a website for graduate nurses, I find anything encompassing health care is very difficult to work through online."
Anika Daclan, who also leads the nursing society, said anxiety has been high among students because of the uncertainty.
The students complete several clinical placements during their intensive, three-year program, and Daclan said they're constantly told there are job opportunities.
But no one would explain exactly what they are.
"I think I would have been better prepared for what was coming," Daclan said. "Right now, I feel very stressed about what's coming up and what opportunities there are and what that looks like for me."
Offered bonuses by B.C.
A few weeks ago, students in Halifax were approached by recruiters from British Columbia, who offered them bonuses if they signed contracts to go there to work.
That left Richard and her peers wondering what was on the table at home.
So the students arranged to meet with local recruiters last week.
She said she found it "ironic that a province across the country was able to speak to us before our own provincial health authority."
Despite that, Richard said many of their concerns were eased by the session.
She said she learned a lot about rural opportunities, working conditions and incentives.
"Knowing that going to a rural hospital can help pay off your student loans, I think that is invaluable information for someone who is racking up maybe $50,000 in debt," she said.
Dalhousie students not alone
In a statement, Nova Scotia Health offered a different timeline from the student leaders.
The health authority said it reached out to all Atlantic university nursing programs in early September as it does every year. It said contact was made with a student representative at Dalhousie on Sept. 7.
NSH said the plan was to meet on Oct. 5, but that was delayed by a request from the student representative.
But Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, said the Dalhousie students weren't the only ones in this situation.
"It's unacceptable that we have a graduating class in December from St. FX, and again they tell me no one was in front of them either," she said.
"They're in their final year. They are being recruited by other provinces, we need to get in with them in their third year and start signing contracts with them."
Nova Scotia has vacancies for 1,086 registered nurses. Hiring them is a top priority for Dr. Kevin Orrell, the CEO of the province's new office of health-care recruitment.
"I think we've recognized that there has been some deficiency in contacting our student nurses," Orrell said, saying recruiters in the province need to be more aggressive when it comes to offering students contracts.
NSH said about 20 people signed conditional contracts at the meeting, and it intends to follow up with many more. NSH said it hires between 350 and 450 nursing graduates a year.
Orrell said that, in the future, students will be approached with offers at the end of their first year.
"I think anybody that has finished their first year, has basically committed to their studies and will graduate as a nurse."
Richard said that would be valuable for the students, and could help them choose more appropriate clinical placements in areas where they may eventually stay.
On Monday, she's starting a clinical placement in the emergency department in Windsor, N.S. It's her first placement outside of the city.
If that goes well, she said she'll consider some of the rural options that were presented by recruiters that she didn't know about before that meeting.
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