The nurses of New Brunswick are and have been a critical part of the healthcare system. According to the Canadian Nurses Association, in 2019 there were 439,975 regulated nurses with an active licence. The distribution of nurses by licence type is as follows: 300,669 registered nurses (RNs), 6,159 nurse practitioners (NPs), 127,097 licensed practical nurses and registered practical nurses (LPNs and RPNs), and 6,050 registered psychiatric nurses. The problems that have created the nurse shortage in New Brunswick will be discussed and explained.

Ageing Population and Workforce 

The earth’s population is ageing. As the baby boom generation enters the age of increased healthcare, the demand for nurses and healthcare has increased. As of July 1, 2020, 18% of Canadians were aged 65 and older (6,835,866 people). In most cases, Canadians over the age of 65 typically tend to have multiple diagnoses requiring treatment. 

As the demand for healthcare increases, technology advances, too. In 1960, one was expected to live to be 70; in 2019, the expectancy has increased to 82. This has caused an increased amount of elderly, further increasing the immense demand for nurses. 

While the population ages, so does the workforce. In Canada, the average age of nurses from 2008 to 2020 was 43.6 years old, but the average retirement age is 65. And while the average age of nurses may be decreasing in developed cities, in rural areas of New Brunswick, the percentage working has declined over the course of the past five years (2015-2019). This means a decrease of 0.4% to 2.1% depending on the nurse category. 

In short, everyone is getting older: nurses and patients. And while there has been evidence of an influx of younger nurses (a rise of 1.9%), overall the nursing workforce in Canada has diminished by 1.5% and is struggling to keep the pace. 

Nurse Burnout – Careers and Family 

During such a detrimental time, nurses-to-be are slowly discovering that what they are studying is much different than what they originally thought. Or, some nurses will finish their education and work awhile, only to second-guess their professional choices after a few years and leave the field. 

Although nurse burnout is grim, it does seem to be levelling out – but this is only years after steadily climbing the ranks. In Canada, the nurse turnover rate which explains the number of people who have discontinued their nursing careers is at a staggering 19.9%. That means that approximately 1 in every 5 nurses will quit. 

An anonymous RN from Horizon Healthcare spoke on some of the difficulties surrounding being a nurse in NB: 

“When I started nursing ten years ago we were told there was a shortage. They ran ads saying the same thing, ‘everyone needs a nurse’…. We continued on hoping something was being done, but it didn’t happen. Working short, overcrowded hospitals with people in hallways. The atmosphere changed. People are bitter. People have left or gone casual. At present we are running at 75% of the RNs we need to fully staff everywhere. So you know what that means…. People can’t leave.” 

Violence in Healthcare 

Violence in healthcare plays debatably one of the biggest roles in the nursing profession; the ever-present threat of being physically or emotionally abused adds to an already stressful work environment. 

A study conducted in Poland between 2008 to 2009 concluded that nurses represent the profession most vulnerable to aggression in the workplace regarding a healthcare setting. Verbal abuse in the form of being spoken to by a person using loud vocal tones was the most common form of violence nurses were subjected to. The inpatient nurses suffered more insults than those in an outpatient setting. (National Centre for Biotechnology Information)

In March of 2019, Randy Van Horlick brutally assaulted an RN and LPN resulting in Moncton nurse Natasha Poirier being unable to return to full-time employment. A 2017 survey of nearly 1,700 NBNU members found that over 1,000 of them, or 63.3%, experienced a violent encounter in their workplace over the last 12 months.

COVID-Strained Nurses 

In December 2019, COVID-19 swept fear across the world. Ever since then, the effects have continued to spread. And because COVID can show little-to-no symptoms In the human body, it creates an extremely difficult problem for healthcare workers. 

The Nursing Association of New Brunswick (NANB) stated, “our role during the novel coronavirus outbreak is to support your ability to provide safe and competent care and help you understand your accountabilities.” 

But, on March 25, 2020, a provincial-wide state of emergency was declared due to the shortage of nurses in New Brunswick. This led NANB to prohibit health professionals from providing in-person services except for services that are deemed essential and necessary for the wellbeing of clients.  

The regulated health professionals prohibited spanned from audiologists, all the way to speech-language therapists.

NB Nursing in 2022

Now, in 2022, the nursing problem still stands; because of the province’s lack of ability to retain and recruit nurses, it has caused a labour and healthcare crisis. Adding to an already challenged healthcare system, COVID has strung the healthcare system and its nurses to its maximum tension.

“The healthcare system was challenged pre-COVID, and so now that we are two years into a pandemic, all of the cracks and breaks in the system are out front and centre for everyone to see,” New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet said. 

The lack of action in the nursing shortage and unmanageable workload are just some of the difficulties that nurses in NB are going through right now. Long shifts, lots of overtime, little emotional support, are resulting in a dangerous nurse-to-patient ratio. 

Cathy Rogers, the union’s research and education officer, told reporters that 4,187 RNs and nurse practitioners responded to a survey. The survey created by NANB showed that 92% of RNs and LPNs said the healthcare system has been worsening over the last three years.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard responded to the unions survey which showed the extreme unhappiness that nurses have regarding the healthcare system. 

Shephard said that the results were collected before the government signed the new collective agreement with nurses – undermining the feelings and collective thoughts of nurses across NB. 

“We know that things aren’t going to change overnight, but we took working conditions very seriously and we ensured that working conditions were on the table during our negotiations and discussions,” Shephard told reporters in Saint John.

Shephard ensures that the Government of NB is working towards bettering the working environment and working conditions, but she says that ‘we’ can do it collaboratively. 

After three years of struggle, pain, and emotional torture experienced by the nurses of NB, ‘we’ hope that it can be figured out, as soon as possible.