Not enough full-time nursing jobs, say nurses who have left province to find work

The New Brunswick government says the province is in desperate need of nurses, but registered nurses who've left the province say they were forced to move to find stable employment.

Brittney Michaud, a registered nurse who graduated from the University of New Brunswick last year, moved to Ottawa for full-time nursing work.

When Michaud graduated, she was able to secure stable full-time casual employment in New Brunswick throughout the summer when other nurses were away.

When the season changed, however, it became difficult for her and her fellow nursing grads to get the hours they needed. Nurses in casual positions don't have consistent schedules or paid benefits. 

Province says it has strategy

"It was OK at first because we were getting a lot of work at the time in the summer, but then when fall came around, it started to die down and I just realized I need something more consistent in my life," Michaud said. "We've all got bills to pay." 

Last week, the Department of Health announced a 10-year strategy to fix the nursing shortage. The government said it's looking to hire more than 1,300 nurses over the next 10 years — or 130 nurses each year. 

Colleen Kitts-Gougen/CBC

The province currently has 8,000 nurses. There are more than 200 permanent, full- and part-time nursing vacancies at Horizon Hospitals across the province. 

Michaud acknowledged that some full-time positions were available in rural New Brunswick, particularly in emergency rooms, when she was looking for work. But she said she was looking for full-time work on a medicine floor in one of the larger cities in the province. 

She was surprised and frustrated that she wasn't able to find full-time job after graduating. 

"You work so hard for so long and look forward to having that job at the end, and it's not what was expected."

Grads suggest bonuses

Robyn Hamilton said she is studying at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton to become a nurse practitioner and doesn't plan to work in the province when she finishes. After she graduated from the registered nursing program at UNB in 2015, she moved to Nova Scotia because she couldn't find stable employment. 

"I'm young, I'm mobile, and there weren't full-time positions available here at the time," Hamilton said.

Hamilton will be moving to a rural community in Nova Scotia after she finishes the nurse practitioner program. 

Even with the government's 10-year strategy in place, both Michaud and Hamilton plan to stay out of province. 

They both said the province could do a better job of targeting grads before they leave, and offer them recruitment and signing bonuses. They also said the province needs to expand the nursing education program, since they both graduated in classes with fewer than 130 people. 

At last week's announcement, the government said it will put money into increasing the number of nursing spots available at universities.

Part of its strategy also involves an assessment and bridging program for out-of-province nurses wanting to become certified to practise in New Brunswick. Department of Health spokesperson Bruce MacFarlane said $2.3 million has been allocated in the 2019-20 budget to implement the 10-year strategy.

"It's easy for me to say that to fix this problem [the government should] create full-time permanent positions kind of targeting people right out of school before they go get settled somewhere else and are less likely to come back," Hamilton said. 

"I think it probably just comes down to money."