Recruitment creates problems elsewhere
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More than 20 years ago, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that the poaching of Canadian nurses by American hospitals was a worsening situation, due to the fact that our southern neighbours had a growing shortage of nursing staff.
“The U.S. is offering Canadian nurses full-time jobs and all sorts of perks,” said then-executive director Mary Ellen Jeans. “Canada is doing nothing.”
She also described American recruitment methods as “aggressive.”
And there was plenty of research to back up that concern. At the time, a U.S. study noted by the CMAJ suggested that due to the aging RN workforce, the U.S. would have 20 per cent fewer RNs than it needed by the year 2020, with an acute shortage beginning in 2010. This situation was reflected in Canada’s own nursing shortage forecasts, which have come to be realized, only to be compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last July, the Globe and Mail reported that overworked, burnt-out nurses in Canada were looking to escape abusive behaviour directed at them by families of patients during the pandemic for greener pastures in the United States with better pay, and fewer punishing hours.
“I am getting to do what I love and getting paid well for it,” said one former Ontario nurse quoted by the Globe, who moved to Texas for a hospital job there. “What is the incentive to come to Canada and work in the health-care sector right now? Nothing.”
With Canada facing its own dire nursing shortage, watching capable but exhausted nurses leave for greener pastures or retire out of the profession entirely is compounding the situation. It would be all too easy to look at the U.S. and blame those “aggressive” American recruitment strategies for the situation we find ourselves in.
But the problem isn’t just north-south, but also east-west. Recall that in 2020, Ontario-based Bayshore Home Care Solutions raised the ire of health officials and union leaders in Manitoba when the company took out a full-page ad in the Winnipeg Free Press looking to hire nurses, health-care aides and personal support workers in several Ontario cities.
“Recruiting out of Manitoba at a time of critical need in our province is absolutely deplorable,” Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson told the CBC at the time. “But the fact is the Pallister government has effectively done nothing to recruit and retain nurses here in the province, and their actions have only made the situation worse.”
Of course nurses, doctors and other health-care staff have the right to find employment wherever they wish. And so they should. But that does not solve our problem at home, and many Canadian provinces have begun looking overseas for nurse recruitment, including Manitoba.
On Wednesday, the province announced that nearly 350 previously trained health-care workers from the Philippines have already been offered letters of intent following a recruitment mission to the country in February, where recruiters visited the cities of Manila, Cebu City and Iloilo.
“This significantly exceeded our goal and expectations, and I look forward to welcoming those health-care professionals into the health system here in Manitoba,” Health Minister Audrey Gordon said at the legislature Wednesday.
It would be churlish to knock the province for trying to find ways to mitigate the rather dire situation Manitoba currently finds itself in. After all, just this week, a patient died while waiting for care at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre’s emergency room. Jackson cited the critical nursing shortage in the HSC’s ER as the main problem.
“We had many nurses working overtime due to lack of staff, and it was absolutely a critical situation,” Jackson told CBC.
Truly, Manitoba is facing a troubling and worsening situation. But in searching abroad in our recruitment efforts, we are unknowingly facing a moral dilemma as well.
In 2022, the Philippines reported its own shortage of nursing staff, with about 106,000 posts open for medical-related jobs — mostly nurses in public and private hospitals across the country, according to the Gulf News website.
The so-called “shortage” in nurses is being blamed on the emigration of health-care workers. And while the country is different, the tune is much the same as cases of staff burnout have risen dramatically even as demand for nurses in the Philippines during the pandemic spiked.
The irony, of course, is that the Philippines is among the top providers of nurses to many developed countries like Canada and the U.S.
We are not blaming the province for its decision to look overseas for recruits to solve our immediate needs, as we are well aware of the difficulties our hospitals and ERs currently face. But even as we go recruiting nurses from less developed nations that are facing their own health-care crises, we should be making more and better efforts to recruit and retain home-grown nursing staff here in Manitoba. Undoubtedly no small task there.
But we should also be very careful about blaming other jurisdictions for “poaching” our nurses and doctors lest we look like hypocrites.