Alberta has more than 30,000 registered nurses but it’s not enough. According to Margaret Hadley, president of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, the province’s hospitals could use another 1,500 to 2,000 immediately.

“The real concern is that 18 per cent of our membership is over 56 years of age, so we’re looking at retirement of these nurses at any time,” she says. “We are not coping very well, especially in some areas where we have a 40 per cent vacancy rate to fill available nursing positions.” Recently, the provincial government provided more funding for education of new nurses with the goal of 2,000 graduates by 2012, but we need help now, she adds.

And there are thousands of people across Canada who want to be nurses, but there’s not enough spots in colleges, and not enough capable instructors.

International recruitment is helping to some extent, but Canadian graduates are needed as well. “We are still feeling the cuts of the ‘90s, when governments slashed jobs. A lot of nurses couldn’t get positions, so (they) left the country, or went into other professions. Now we’re paying the price for that,” she says. Strategies to keep older nurses working, such as using part-timers to give regular staff more weekends and evenings off, would make the hours more appealing, she adds.

“But nursing is a 24-hour job; there’s always going to be a need for shift work.”

Without adequate numbers of nurses, the patients in hospitals are not getting the care they need. “People are living longer and needing acute care like we didn’t see in the past,” she says. “The current nursing shortage boils down to patient safety and we’ve got to improve it immediately.”

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