NWT nursing students fear nursing shortages will affect critical mentorships

Two nursing students from the Northwest Territories say they have no plans to change their plans to do frontline nursing in the North, despite fears that the national nursing shortage will leaves without adequate mentorship when they graduate.

The continuing shortage of nurses and doctors in the Northwest Territories led to a reduction in the number of intensive care beds at Stanton Territorial Hospital last year and a three-month closure of the obstetrics ward. Some health services in small communities have been temporarily suspended and the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority briefly cut services and inpatient beds at this hospital this month, while warning of continuing shortages for the next six month.

In a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, 27% of the 4,400 nurses surveyed plan to leave their current jobs and 19% plan to leave the profession altogether.

For Yellowknifer Shiri McPherson, a third-year nursing student at York University in Toronto, these statistics add to a situation that she describes as “terrifying”, especially since nearly half of nurses in the middle or end of career surveyed are those who plan to leave.

These are the nurses McPherson and her classmates relied on when they entered the workforce.

“When you graduate, you kind of have a buffer year or two where you have a nurse just, like, kind of mentoring and guiding you,” McPherson told Loren McGinnis, host of The PioneerCBC North’s morning radio show in the Northwest Territories

She says it’s something her classmates talked about.

“Oh shit, we’re going to graduate. There won’t be any more nurses to mentor,” she said.

Research on the nursing shortage

Samantha Goodwin, of Hay River, is in her third year of nursing at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“I’m afraid we don’t have as much expertise [as] mid-career and late-career nurses, those who give advice to new graduates,” she said. “I know it’s a little rare right now and it will continue to be rarer to get this advice.

Samantha Goodwin, a nursing student at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says she’s also worried the nursing shortage means there aren’t enough experienced nurses to help mentor new nurses. like her when they enter the profession. (Submitted by Samantha Goodwin)

The situation prompts Goodwin and McPherson to talk about the need for the next generation of nurses to stand up for themselves and their patients.

McPherson and her classmates decided to address the nursing shortage as a class project in their leadership course.

“We are the future generation of nurses. And if…the foundation isn’t stable, what can we do to help rebuild it?” she says

McPherson says they have identified several factors driving the shortage – from government policy to leadership styles and workplace violence. Through this research, they speak to policy makers and the public, but they also wonder what they can do as new nurses.

“How can we change our practice personally? You know, like the leadership styles that we want to highlight, how do you raise awareness about how to prevent burnout and raise awareness about the amount of, you know, abuse and mistreatment of nurses.”

Goodwin says studying nursing at this point in health care history made her more politically aware.

“It all starts with the government as a whole and … what it has in store for health care, what its budget looks like, what its plans look like.”

Hay River Hospital, which was staffed with a nurse practitioner and family doctor in the community for a week in March. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Last summer, Goodwin worked as a health care aide at the Hay River Regional Health Center and will be returning there this summer.

She and McPherson say nurses are always at high risk of burnout because it’s a caring profession.

Goodwin says the Government of the Northwest Territories is doing one thing well, and that is providing free telephone counseling for nurses suffering from burnout and trauma, which she has not seen in Alberta.

“I still want to leave my mark”

Goodwin knows she is choosing a demanding career, but it has been her plan since childhood to do bedside nursing.

“I always want to be able to leave my mark…while setting my personal boundaries.”

McPherson says many of her classmates are reconsidering a future in bedside nursing due to the stress of the nursing shortage, but that’s not happening.

McPherson, far left, survived childhood cancer. She says the care she received from the nurses inspired her to pursue bedside nursing. (Submitted by Shiri McPherson)

As a childhood cancer survivor, she takes the nursing shortage personally; she wants to be able to provide the kind of care she received as a child.

“If the state of nursing continues to be what it is now, I know I won’t be able to do it. And that makes me pretty sad, honestly.”