HALIFAX — Graduates from nursing schools in Nova Scotia are being guaranteed jobs in the province over the next five years in order to help address chronic staffing shortages.
Premier Tim Houston read a statement in the legislature Thursday in which he said nursing graduates from universities and colleges in Nova Scotia will have a "standing offer" to work in the province.
"That's not lip service," Houston told the house. "If they want to work in our health system when they finish their studies, there is a place for them."
He said starting immediately, graduating nurses will be told if the job they are being offered is with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which oversees most of the province's hospitals, the IWK Health Sciences Centre in Halifax or in the continuing care sector.
Houston said the move is in response to recent criticism in media reports that not enough is being done to recruit new nurses and to let them know that they are needed in the province.
The premier said his government will also do whatever it can to make it possible for students to work in their chosen field and to work where they want.
Houston 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 hundreds of vacancies.
Last month the Nova Scotia Nurses Union warned there were 1,100 vacancies for registered nurses in the province, 250 spots open for licensed practical nurses and 25 vacancies for nurse practitioners — a situation it called "intolerable."
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin took issue with the premier's statement, saying the previous Liberal government took significant steps to recruit and hire new nurses. "There's nothing new in this statement, this political statement," Rankin told the legislature.
He added that Nova Scotia's staffing ratios for graduates actually compare favourably when ranked against the rest of Canada.
Houston told reporters that he's not sure exactly how many nursing students are choosing to leave the province. He said working conditions are part of the vacancy problem, with many nurses asked to work longer hours and without full staffing complements.
The premier said that can be reversed by simply treating people better and ensuring they get more staffing support so they can take breaks at work and go on vacations when they schedule them.
"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."
Nursing unions across Canada have been warning of similar staffing shortages and say the situation has been compounded by the stresses of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to data from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, there's been a 78 per cent increase in average weekly overtime during the pandemic, while 24-hour nursing shifts are becoming more routine in many regions, including in Nova Scotia.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press