Already grappling with a lack of health care workers, the N.W.T. and Nunavut could see a mass exodus of nurses in the next 10 years as staff struggle with burnout, dissatisfaction at work and a lack of resources.
Both territories have long since joined the ranks of locations in Canada where staffing shortages have forced service reductions at health centres and hospitals. As of Tuesday, 11 health centres in communities across the N.W.T. were only offering emergency care because of staffing issues.
On Wednesday, the territories released the results of a February survey from the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
The results contain few surprises: mandated overtime, burnout and having to deal with violence in the workplace are some of the factors that are making nurses rethink their chosen profession. Staff shortages are making it hard for nurses to meet increasing workload demands, and their work-life balance is suffering because of it.
The survey, which has been broken into two reports to provide territory-specific information, shows about 43 per cent of N.W.T. nurses and about 49 per cent of Nunavut nurses plan to retire in the next decade. Some of those retirements are expected as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, the report says.
Two-thirds of Nunavut nurses and almost 79 per cent of N.W.T. nurses considered leaving their jobs in the last two years. In the N.W.T., most nurses said that's because they felt overworked.
In both territories, more than two-thirds of nurses have experienced workplace violence, primarily in the form of verbal abuse. That's led to some nurses leaving their positions.
Nurses in both territories also pointed to what they saw as ineffective or bad management as a factor contributing to their desire to leave.
The Nunavut report warns that if the concerns of nurses aren't addressed, the territory "may face a decline in its current nursing workforce and a further deterioration of the recruitment and retention situation."
What can be done?
Both reports point to solutions nurses say could convince them to change their minds and stay longer.
In the N.W.T., nurses said they could be encouraged to continue on if they were offered annual cash incentives, more professional development opportunities or more flexibility with their schedule.
They want to be able to use their benefits, like annual leave, and have their concerns about workplace violence taken seriously.
Similar themes punctuate the Nunavut survey, where nurses said they would like annual cash incentives, the ability to work short-term contracts and to have more professional development opportunities as well.
The survey polled 847 nurses across the two territories.