In the late 1960s and early '70s, two key events occurred in Ontario that greatly affected the nursing profession: the unionization of the workforce and the move of diploma-granting nursing schools out of the hospitals (first to regional schools, then to the community colleges). At the same time, university nursing programs were undergoing significant changes. A paradigm shift occurred in which baccalaureate-prepared nurses were being educated for practice as well as for roles in education and administration. While all these activities had overall positive implications, there were unintended effects that continue to influence the profession today. These include the detachment of employers from clinical nursing education; fragmentation of the profession between front-line staff and the professional elites (proletarianization); rejection by front-line practitioners and college educators of nursing scholarship in favour of experiential and technical knowledge; and rivalry between college and university educators that has hampered the development of effective collaborations.
For this study, interviews were undertaken with three informants, and their recollections were considered in the context of documentation from the College of Nurses of Ontario (the regulatory body), the Ontario Nurses Association (the union) and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (the professional association).
As we move into a new era of nursing education reform, current and projected nursing shortages and growing labour unrest among nurses across the country, it is useful to analyze past events to determine factors that may continue to influence the current environment. A greater understanding of these two key events (unionization and education reform) may inform policy and guide decision-makers within and outside the nursing profession.
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