Manitoba moves to bolster nursing staff with upper-year students

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Student nurses in their upper years will soon be able to pick up paid shifts at hospitals as part of a new provincial program that will provide novice health-care workers with mentorship while addressing a labour shortage.

Student nurses in their upper years will soon be able to pick up paid shifts at hospitals as part of a new provincial program that will provide novice health-care workers with mentorship while addressing a labour shortage.

Manitoba’s ministers of health and advanced education were joined by Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer, to unveil the undergraduate nurse employee initiative Monday.

The province plans to recruit students in their third and fourth years of undergraduate nursing programs to work under experienced mentors within surgical, medicine and mental health units to support in-patient care.

“We’re hoping that it will be helpful to the nurses, and also helpful to the students — so a two-way win,” said Siragusa, provincial lead of health system integration at Shared Health, during a news conference at the Manitoba legislature.

Siragusa indicated the program, expected to roll out before 2022 with an initial 60 students, could add nearly new 500 workers to the health-care system.

Eligible learners must be enrolled in an approved program for registered nursing or registered psychiatric nursing. Successful candidates will have also completed both a minimum of 450 hours of clinical practice and a placement in one of three specific areas of care.

The casual employees, who will have a membership with the Manitoba Nurses Union, meaning the hours they work will count towards their seniority as nurses, will be offered day, evening and weekend shifts.

Siragusa said employees will earn $27 an hour working in units with “stable” staffing and activity to support their competency level and ongoing learning.

“(Nursing students) learn in the classroom, we learn in the skills lab, we learn when we do our clinical placement and our practicums, but nothing really replaces the experience of contributing as a team on the units with patients,” she said, noting this new opportunity is paid whereas practicum and placement experiences are for course credit.

Ontario, Alberta and B.C. already have programs in place that provide senior nursing students with the opportunity to work in their chosen career prior to graduation. Asked why Manitoba is rolling out the program now, Siragusa indicated she could speak only to the future and not the past.

“These (shortage) issues are being felt right across the country,” said Health Minister Audrey Gordon. “We need to staff up in our nursing complement.”

Gordon cited the province’s commitments to welcoming more internationally educated nurses and adding 400 undergraduate nursing seats as efforts to address the labour shortage at a time when the pandemic continues to impact job demands and burnout.

Gillian Laninga, senior stick of the Nursing Students Association at the University of Manitoba, welcomed the latest announcement.

“This is another really good opportunity for students to step up and help in a really great time of need,” said Laninga, adding many health-care workers-in-training have been working at COVID-19 vaccination sites in recent months.

The initiative was brought forward by Shared Health during recent collective bargaining discussions, said Darlene Jackson, MNU president, who suggested its success hinges on a thoughtful rollout.

Jackson said employers must ensure there are enough mentors available to support novice nurses and these experts’ workloads are lessened so they can take on this new responsibility. “If it is done incorrectly, I worry that we’ll just be chasing these young nurses out of the system,” she said.

In a statement, NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara criticized the province’s approach, saying the “secret” to recruiting and retaining nurses — who were burned out long before the COVID-19 pandemic — is to fund health-care properly, invest in patient care and treat employees with respect.

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Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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