The Hamilton Spectator
Recruitment without retention won’t fix nursing
It is no secret that Ontario’s health system is in crisis. Staffing shortages have led to waitlists of over 12,000 children’s surgeries and to emergency department closures at several hospitals. Ontarians need more nurses. The provincial government’s plans to reduce barriers for internationally educated nurses and expand access to education is a start but fall short of solving the problem.
Frankly, nursing recruitment on its own, will never be enough. If we want to address our dire nursing shortage, we need to be doing more to retain the nurses we already have. A 2022 survey of registered practical nurses (RPNs) showed that nearly half of respondents were actively considering a career change.
There is simply no way nursing recruitment can keep up with the great nursing resignation on the horizon. Pair this with an aging population with complex medical needs and we don’t stand a chance.
When nurses are constantly leaving their positions, patient care suffers. Lack of adequate staffing leads to inconsistent care and in turn increases the risk of increased medical errors, longer recovery times and greater likelihood of negative outcomes for patients, particularly for patients who have chronic conditions or are in critical care.
Additionally, high turnover rates among nurses are extremely costly for both healthcare organizations and provincial governments. Retaining experienced nurses allows for better overall care, reduced training costs and less of a need for expensive Band-Aid solutions. Health-care organizations have become overreliant on for-profit nursing agencies to fill gaps in staffing, which can cost taxpayers two to three times more.
■ So how do we retain nurses? First, we must pay them what they are worth. RPNs, in particular, have seen their roles continue to expand year over year without corresponding adjustments in their compensation. Offering nurses fair wages will help improve job satisfaction and provide a stronger incentive for them to stay in the health-care system. Money being spent on nursing agencies would be better spent on compensating staff nurses appropriately, creating more fulltime positions, and harmonizing wages across sectors in our health-care system.
■ Second, we need to make the job fulfilling by allowing it to be done properly. For too many nurses the reality of a day working short-staffed means being forced to choose between the right level of care and doing the minimum to keep patients safe.
As the government works toward its goal of an average of four hours of care per day in long-term care, let’s get there by legislating a nurse-to-patient ratio that makes it possible.
■ Third, let nurses get ahead. Nurses are like everyone else, they want to succeed in life through a simple combination of hard work, perseverance and opportunity to gain skills that allow them to succeed at the next level.
To retain more nurses, give them the opportunities to advance and succeed by funding education programs like the Nursing Education Initiative and the Bridging Education Grants in Nursing.
Imagine that nursing is once again the highly valued and proud profession it once was. We’re paid well. We have real opportunity to learn and grow in our careers. And our patients are getting the care they need and deserve. What a great recruitment pitch that would be.