Bill Piket just thinking

JUST THINKING: Nurse shortage brought into sharp focus by pandemic

High cost of education one factor keeping young people from pursuing the profession

A national daily newspaper recently reported on Canada’s shortage of nurses, noting that our hospitals are finding it extremely difficult to manage pandemic demands.

In Ontario, bed-ridden patients are being shipped to outlying hospitals, far from their families and friends. As serious as the shortage of beds is the shortage of nurses and other personnel. So now the army is being mobilized to help. But it is not just a problem in Ontario. Nurses in B.C. are also in short supply.

I was in Peace Arch Hospital emergency recently. I spent five hours being interviewed, examined and tested by a number of personnel, and eventually a doctor told me I had suffered what he called a mini stroke. I was informed I’d be hearing from a neurologist.

Waiting during the various stages of the process, I was struck by the frantic pace of the nurses. These professionals were rushing from one assignment to the next. I don’t know how they could possibly maintain this effort for a 12-hour working day. And that isn’t all.

My daughter-in-law is a nurse in the B.C. Interior. She and others have been telling me for years that our hospitals are desperately short of nurses. Hospitals deal with this by making more demands on the ones they do have.

Nurses are asked to work long, 12-hour shifts, and overtime on top of that. Being caring people, they do it. The problem of burnout existed before the pandemic hit. And as burned-out nurses go on sick leave or retire, the pressure increases. It is predicted that by 2022 there will be a shortage of 60,000 nurses in Canada.

From talking to students at Invergarry Adult Education Centre, I know there are many young people who would love to get the education needed to become a nurse. Four years at college or university costs $6,000 each year, plus room and board if you have to live away from home.

How is a young person from a working class family going to finance that – a bank loan? A good many young people are reluctant to take on a huge debt, and I don’t blame them.

When I enrolled at UBC in 1957 the total fees I paid for a full course load for a year was under $250. Since then, inflation and fees have been climbing steadily, as governments cut supports to education. In the early 1990s, B.C. celebrated huge cuts to income and corporate taxes and we tripled the student fees at colleges and universities. We are now seeing some painful results.

After this pandemic is over, perhaps both our provincial and federal governments might have a second look at this issue of financing higher education. Did you know it’s free in Denmark and many other countries?

Bill Piket is a White Rock senior who, beginning this month, will write occasionally for Peace Arch News – whenever there’s something on his mind.

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