The brain drain of Canadians to the United States has been going
on ever since the two countries organized themselves into
countries. Probably it was a "brawn drain" originally as loggers
from New Brunswick and Quebec left to pursue better paying and more
reliable jobs in the textile and leather mills of New England. We
know the original major players in organized nursing in the United
States were almost all Canadians who had gone south for "training"
as nurses because opportunities were better there. These Canadian
nurses eventually rose to positions of leadership; for example,
Isabel Hampton Robb, the first director of nursing and first
superintendent of the school of nursing at Johns Hopkins Hospital
and the major force in organizing nurses into what became the
American Nurses Association. Interes-tingly, she joined Dr. William
Osler, the first Medical Director of Johns Hopkins who was also
Helen Mussallem (1964) reported on the number of Canadian nurses who migrated annually to the United States in the 1950s: 935 in 1952, 1042 in 1953 and between 1250 and 1500 each year from 1956-1960. We don't know if those nurses left for the same reasons as those who left in the 1990s; but it would be interesting to examine proportionate to the Canadian nursing population, the size of the annual migration over the intervening decades.
The Pink et al. paper teases us with information about Canadian nursing migrants but leaves most questions unanswered. Brain drain can reflect lack of opportunities at home or exceptional and unmatchable opportunities in the country that attracts the migrants. Access to a credible database provides opportunities to get access to nurses who can provide the answers. Hopefully, these investigators will pursue these questions among many others: Why are Canadian nurses leaving now? What are the opportunities that attract them? What are the elements of the positions they hold that are satisfying and would need to be replicated to bring them home? What role does the environment beyond nursing (weather, cost of living, local and national politics, personal safety) attract or repel them? How many seek entry level and how many emigrate to accept senior positions? And finally, how do we get them back?
About the Author(s)
Dorothy Pringle, PhD
Mussallem, H.K. 1964. A Path to Quality: A Plan for the Development of Nursing Education Programs within the General Education System of Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Nurses Association
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