The University of Prince Edward Island held its first in-person convocation in two years Tuesday, with jobs waiting for many of the nursing and veterinary medicine grads who crossed the stage.
Workers in both professions are high in demand.
Health P.E.I. said it will hire about three dozen nursing grads. The biggest shortages are currently in acute care and long-term care.
Some grads signed a $5,000 bonus with the promise to stay and work on P.E.I.
"Staffing shortages are definitely a huge problem, it's definitely taking a toll on health care. I'd say that's the biggest issue right now," said nursing grad Mackenzie Williams.
More incentives, higher pay and guaranteed time off will help retain nurses, some grads said.
It's a challenging time, but it is also a time when we are looking forward to having these new graduates in the system. — Jo-Ann MacDonald
And while staff shortages are tough, it also means a chance to do different kinds of nursing, said Katie Toole.
"I'm going to get a chance to experience a lot of new things and those experiences will be there because there's not as many people, so it will be a good learning experience — but it's also going to be a lot of pressure for the first six months or so."
Jo-Ann MacDonald, the interim dean of nursing at UPEI, said it's important the graduating class knows how to manage the demands of work.
"How do you remain resilient at a time when there are so many demands on your time and expectations?" she said.
"It's a challenging time, but it is also a time when we are looking forward to having these new graduates in the system."
She said the graduates have shown remarkable resilience and flexibility as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people learn.
"They are the first class that has lived through the now six phases of the pandemic … They will be affected forever by this pandemic because not only has it affected their education, it's affected their social lives within the community."
Some, such as Heidi Hennessey, have been able to get the jobs they want right away.
"I love working with babies and families. It's such a special day for both parents, so being able to go into that specialty right out of school is really nice," she said.
Tuesday's grads still have to write a national exam, but they're happy convocation day is here and they're one step closer to becoming registered nurses.
"I feel quite accomplished that it's finally here," Williams said.