Nova Scotia's premier is offering guaranteed jobs to every nursing student that graduates in the province over the next five years in order to fill massive gaps in the health-care system.
Tim Houston made the announcement in the House of Assembly on Thursday, saying recruiters will be more aggressive by approaching students earlier in their studies.
He said the province graduates about 700 registered nurses and licensed practical nurses a year, and it needs to hire as many as possible to fill the current 1,400 vacancies.
The Nova Scotia Nurses' Union has warned that many more are expected to retire in the near future.
The announcement follows a CBC News report that revealed students in their final year at Dalhousie University met with recruiters from British Columbia before Nova Scotia representatives. They said it created uncertainty about their futures.
The province's health authority said it had attempted to meet with the students a few weeks earlier, but the initial meeting was postponed by the students.
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin took aim at the pledge.
"The government before this took significant steps," he said. "There's nothing new in this statement, this political statement."
'Fantastic news,' says nurses' union president
Nova Scotia Nurses' Union president Janet Hazelton disputed Rankin's assessment. She pointed to nursing students who said they weren't approached by recruiters from the province as proof that Rankin's claim was false.
Hazelton said previously there was no guarantee of working in Nova Scotia after graduation.
"It was a maybe before today," she said. "Today it's a guarantee."
Hazelton said the announcement will help with nurse retention because nurses working many overtime hours will see that help is on the way.
"It's fantastic news," she said.
When asked by reporters, Houston said he wasn't sure how many nursing students were slipping through the cracks.
The health authority said it hires 350 to 450 a year. The nursing students will also be offered positions at the IWK Health Centre and continuing-care centres.
Houston said Thursday's announcement signals "that Nova Scotia needs — and wants — their skill, their energy and their compassion."
Under the province's new plan, Houston said the timing is not being left up to chance, and they will approach students significantly earlier in their studies.
Houston elaborated on a goal set by the head of the newly formed Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment, Dr. Kevin Orrell.
"First-year nurses will be given job offers," Houston said. "They will be given information about all the opportunities and programs that are available here."
What the province can offer
On Tuesday night, Houston hosted a call with nursing students from across the province. The students told CBC News many flagged issues about their finances and the added burden they face in order to graduate.
Houston told reporters he was clear with the students about what the province can offer.
"Nova Scotia is probably never going to be the jurisdiction that has the highest pay. It's probably not going to happen," he said. "If we can't pay them the best, then we can at least treat them the best."
While the commitment is for five years, Houston expects the offer to be presented to students in the long term.
In early October, the recruitment office said the province is short 1,086 registered nurses, 235 licensed practical nurses, 63 nurses for the IWK Health Centre and 12 nurse practitioners.
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