The recent ACEN annual meeting demonstrated that the issues being faced by the health care system and particularly by nurses are similar no matter where you go across the country.

These issues include an increasing shortage of health care professionals, and continuing threats to the educational goals of the nursing profession. In partial response to these issues, the provincial Deputy Ministers of health have endorsed a Nursing Occupational/Sector Study. Although the terms of reference are still in development, the objective of the study is to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the nursing labour market in Canada to inform the future education and utilization of nurses.

As well as the planned sector study, the Advisory Committee on Health Human Resources has been directed by the Deputies to develop a Nursing Strategy for Canada. The strategy would seek to achieve and maintain an adequate supply of nursing personnel who are appropriately educated, distributed and deployed to meet the health needs of Canadian residents.

In preparation for the strategy development, a consultation paper, 'Towards a Nursing Strategy for Canada' has been selectively circulated to professional associations and other groups "to ensure governments and stakeholder organizations share a common understanding of the complexity of the issues, to analyze and explore some of the key contributing factors and their interrelationships, and to solicit feedback on twelve proposed strategies to improve the supply and management of the workforce."

The suggested strategies include implementation of national and provincial councils on nursing resources, the development of a national nursing data base and research agenda on human resources, better coordination of human resource planning; as well as improved approaches to recruitment into the profession, retention, and re-entry. While there are also strategies identified to increase the number of educational seats in nursing programs and to provide appropriate educational experiences for students, the consultation paper does not advcate for baccalaureate preparation. In fact, the paper suggests that the expanded competencies being reflected in the revised registration examinations may not be necessary for all nurses, citing the fct that 90% of employed nurses are diploma prepared, with 74% of them working in hospitals. Educators in diploma programs have indicated that students may not have time to acquire the enhanced competencies during the time frame they are enrolled.

It is most unfortunate that a consultation paper meant to inform nursing human resources planning into the future does not recognize the need for all practising nurses (including those in institutional settings) to have a broad and comprehensive knowledge base that will allow them to assess, plan, and evaluate as well as implement care for patients, and families whether in hospital or the community.

This breadth of knowledge can only be attained through the rigor and depth of university studies. Given the recent actions by governments in British Columbia and Manitoba to perpetuate diploma education for nurses, the organized profession, through its provincial and federal voices, must strengthen its voice in support of university preparation as entry to practice for nursing.

In order to further this goal, hospital-based nursing administrators should consider ways in which nursing roles could be redefines to ensure that these enhanced competencies are fully utilized and that appropriate non-nursing roles support patient care.

About the Author

Susan D. Smith,
Associate Editor