These nursing students can't get permanent jobs. The health minister says to temper expectations

Health Minister Tom Osborne said there are full-time nursing jobs for every nurse in the province.  (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Tom Osborne said there are full-time nursing jobs for every nurse in the province. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

Soon-to-be nursing graduates Chloe George and Hayley Cheeseman — about to enter a workforce dotted with hundreds of vacancies yet also featuring pricey private nurses hired on short-term contracts from around the world —say the only job offer they have is a temporary contract at a St. John's hospital.

They are looking for permanent, full-time work — something they've been told many times they are certain to receive — to help fill more than 700 nursing vacancies in Newfoundland and Labrador.

George and Cheeseman say they're confused about revelations that the government shelled out nearly $36 million in just a few months for travel nurses, who are offered significantly higher rates of pay than regular nurses.

The two students do not understand why health managers are and searching for nurses in other countries to fill vacant positions when there are nurses already on the ground who want to work.

"It's just unfortunate because I don't think we were prepared for this, but I don't think anybody was," said George, who along with Cheeseman is a fourth-year nursing student at the Centre for Nursing Studies in St. John's. Both have been offered contracts at St. Clare's Hospital.

"The faculty has really been surprised and not pleased about that either. I think they are just as blindsided and just as bewildered as we are."

Health Minister Tom Osborne said there are full-time nursing jobs for every nurse in the province, but added students should temper expectations as the available jobs may not be in the specific units or locations students want.

"You can't graduate and say, 'I want the preferred job in a preferred area," he said.

WATCH | Union president Yvette Coffey wants an investigation into how so much money has been spent on private nurses:

Osborne said nurses get first pick based on seniority and applicable experience.

The provincial health authority still relies on private agency nurses to fill vacancies in medicine and surgery units in the St. John's metro region, he said, and that these two areas are the hardest to recruit in.

"Any of those nurses who haven't gotten permanent jobs who want to replace those 20 agency nurses in St. John's, the health authority will hire them today," he said.

Mixed messages

A recent Globe and Mail report revealed the government spent $35.6 million on nurses from private agencies from April to August of last year, and shelled out cash for travel nurses' training, cable bills and a variety of other expenses.

In April 2023, CBC News and allnewfoundlandandlabrador reported the four former health authorities — which have since been merged into Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services — spent about $100 million in a year on travel nurses and the private agencies that recruited them.

Cheeseman said she asked her classmates about their job prospects, and found that fewer than 25 of the more than 100 graduating students had permanent, full-time jobs lined up.

LISTEN | CBC's Martin Jones asks two nursing students why they aren't offered full-time jobs: 

"You know, you're guaranteed those positions and now here we have 103 of us graduating and majority of the class is only being offered temporary full-time positions," she said, "[That] might not even last them a year until they'll have to drop back to casual hours and apply for other temporary full-time or permanent full-time jobs."

Debbie Molloy, the vice-president of human resources with N.L. Health Services, said the health authority will be holding sessions with nursing school students to tell them about available opportunities.

She said she feels sorry many don't feel supported.

"We've actually incentivized a number of areas that are harder to recruit, in hopes that someone will take a chance and, you know, try something that's a little outside perhaps [of] their comfort zone," she said.

Submitted by Hayley Cheeseman
Submitted by Hayley Cheeseman

Molloy said there are incentives of up to $24,000 for full-time permanent positions in Bell Island, Bonavista, Burin, Clarenville, Carbonear and Placentia.

Taking a full-time position at a community clinic in Labrador comes with an incentive of up to $40,000.

Osborne said there are a total of 219 nurses graduating from three schools in the province this year. One-hundred-sixty-eight of them have accepted full-time nursing positions, 75 of those positions being permanent.

Money for travel nurses should be redirected: NDP

NDP Leader Jim Dinn said the provincial government has suppressed nurses' demands and cut their benefits — so the latest news about the millions spent on travel nurses sheds light on a longstanding issue.

"How do we start putting that [money] into the system to entice nurses to stay in the system?" he asked.

Dinn said convincing nurses to come to Newfoundland and Labrador from places like Dubai won't solve the underlying problems that are causing those already in the province to leave the system.

There are many issues with the current system, he said, including unfair compensation and poor working conditions and work-life balance that need to be addressed.

WATCH | Premier Andrew Furey says travel nurses were necessary during worst of pandemic:

John Harris, the director of external affairs, communication and research for Memorial University's student union, said students complete 1,600 hours of unpaid labour for their clinical placements.

He said student nurses have already seen the issues within the system — and if it doesn't change, nurses from abroad won't stay either.

"Nursing students feel burnt out and unappreciated even before they become nurses," he said.

"They are not being paid enough. They are stressed out and, of course, when there is an option to become a travel nurse, that is a lot more appealing."

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