The Business of Healthcare: Why the Nursing Shortage Affects You

by Dr. Eli Karlin
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Nursing Shortage - Fresh Print MagazineIn the next 15-20 years, the Canadian Baby Boomers are going to be reaching an age where their healthcare needs are going to weigh heavily on Canada’s healthcare infrastructure. According to Statistics Canada, as of 2011 there are 9.6 million people in the Baby Boomer age group. This means that about one third of the population will retire and soon after may require expensive, intensive healthcare. Now, this may not mean much to the millennial generation, but it’s something that should be taken very seriously. Without change in the healthcare system, treatment may not be readily available.

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In Canada we are facing a nursing shortage. In the next few years and with the impending Baby Boomer influx, this shortage will become much more obvious. Many new nurses only work part-time hours due to the demands and stresses of the job.In fact many of these nurses are in the Baby Boomer generation and will retire, leading to a worsening of the shortage. It can be said that there needs to be a cultural and educational shift in the nursing school approach. When in a nursing program, nursing trainees are not being trained to deal with the high-pressure environment that will ultimately meet them in their future workspace. Studies have shown that as high as 75% of nurses change their career path after the first year outside of nursing school because of the lack of proper training in the field. An average nurse may see as many as 20-30 patients in a day, however nurse trainees may only see a fraction of that. They may lack the ability to move into a position of providing high volume bedside care and are more likely to resign than newly hired but experienced nurses. In the U.S. there has been a push towards residency programs for nurses and is something that Canadians should think about. A nursing residency program would increase nurse retention and decrease turnover by providing new graduates with the proper tools for success. Just as a doctor would have to pursue a residency to practice medicine, a nurse should have to do the same. After all, this is not the sort of job people should be learning on the fly.

That being said, we must also take into consideration that there are many issues pertaining to nursing shortages beyond the number of nurses that are working. Research shows that when nurses are overworked, there is a rise in patient errors and thus, patient outcomes fall. Without intervention, this will inevitably create a financial situation that we as Canadians cannot afford. It is not that we need more money in the system, although that would help. It is the need for federal and provincial governments to address delivering the best healthcare to a retiring generation. In the end, a residency program for nurses is one of many options to create a workforce that is capable of handling the future waves of healthcare needs. However, this will only work if the rest of us demand change in the system. After all it’s our parents, relatives, and neighbours that are going to need the care. Can we really afford to do nothing?

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