TORONTO — The number of nurses working in Canada rose by 8.3 per cent between 2004 and last year, a new study indicates.
The report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, released Friday, said the number of employed nurses reached 341,431.
“We’re certainly encouraged by the number,” said Rachel Bard, CEO of the Canadian Nurses Association.
“We’ve always said that nurses do bring solutions to the system, and this is certainly recognizing that nurses are part of the solution in the efforts to meet Canada’s complex health-care challenges.”
The rate of growth for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses exceeded the rate of population growth over the past five years, while the registered psychiatric nurse workforce in Western Canada kept pace with population growth, the statistics show.
A positive development is an increase in the number of community health nurses and more nurses working in telehealth, Bard said.
The report said the proportion of registered nurses employed in the community health sector rose from 13.8 per cent in 2004, to 14.2 per cent in 2008
“We all know that we need to shift the locus of care, we need to reach people where they are, so registered nurses play a key role in supporting community and individuals in managing their own health. Focusing on health promotion and prevention of illness and injury is certainly what we need to strive for,” Bard said in an interview from Ottawa.
The Canadian population is aging, and there is a need to ensure there will be enough nurses to support elderly people in the years to come, she noted.
Supply and demand varies across the country. Earlier this month, the New Brunswick government announced it would spend $800,000 on incentives for difficult-to-fill nursing positions.
But in Alberta, nursing students protested at the legislature in September because they were concerned about unhealthy job prospects and feared they would have to look for work in other provinces.
The CIHI report showed that the proportion of regulated nurses educated internationally in Canada increased to seven per cent in 2008 from 6.7 per cent in 2004.
Bard said the CNA is concerned about the ethical aspects of this trend and doesn’t want to see recruiting of nurses from countries that have their own shortages.
“You want to balance and really bring some self-sufficiency into the system,” she said.
“If I look at the number of nursing students that graduated in 2008, it was 9,113, but there’s only a net gain of 3,008 nurses due to the retirement of the aging workforce, and people moving … we’re in the right direction when you look at the numbers, but we still need to be very vigilant in continuing to address it.”
The report also found that the number of nurse practitioners rose to 1,626 last year from just 800 in 2004. Nurse practitioners provide care that can goes beyond that of a regular nurse — including diagnosis, ordering and interpreting tests and prescribing drugs and treatment.