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Nurses call on Alberta government to pay for training

Incentives are needed to address severe nurse shortage, say protesters

Nurses are calling on the Alberta government to pay for nursing school for those who agree to stay in the province after graduation. More than 200 nurses rallied in front of the Alberta legislature Monday warning that a chronic shortage in their profession means patient safety is reaching the “danger” level.

Darlene Simpson, who works in neo-natal intensive care at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, said that Alberta is a wealthy province and should be paying for nurses’ education in exchange for graduates signing a contract to work in the province for several years.

“It’s not safe,” said Tanice Olson, who has nursed for two decades and now works in the surgical unit at the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary. “On any given day, we are short nurses on one or all of the units. “And it’s going to get worse because in the next five years, 6,000 nurses are eligible for retirement and we don’t have enough nurses coming out to replace them.”

Both Simpson and Olson said the situation has gotten worse over the years. Both suggested incentives to lure nursing students to Alberta and to keep graduates from leaving the province.

Olson also recommended paying student loans for nurses who are sometimes wary of staying in Alberta because of the high cost of housing. “For new grads, they can’t afford to buy a home and pay off student loans and get themselves set up,” she said. “So they’re heading out to Saskatchewan and eastern provinces.”

The Alberta government promised during the recent provincial election campaign to start graduating 2,000 nurses a year within four years – up from about 1,600 graduates annually now. But the unions say for that target to be realistic, the province needs to ramp up the number of spaces in nursing schools.

The rally was organized by several unions, including the United Nurses of Alberta, which has 25,000 members, and which released a strategy for heading off a worsening shortage in Canada’s fastest-growing province.

-with a report from CP

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