Nursing Shortage in Canada

Tristen Cruickshank, Esther Devadas, Paula Monaghan, Tessa Shelvey

Table of Contents:

  • What is the nursing shortage?

  • Why is there a nursing shortage in Canada?

  • What is being done to solve the nursing shortage?

  • What are the effects of the nursing shortage?

  • Conclusion

  • References

What is the nursing shortage?

According to Booth (2002), by the year 2022, there will be a need of 60 000 full time registered nurses (p.395). Sadly, the nursing shortage not only affects Canada alone but also is an epidemic across the world. The world has a great increase in the nurse population, yet the nursing shortage “is the most serious experienced in history” (Booth, 2002, p. 394). On top of that, countries such as Canada and America are recruiting and migrating nurses from developing countries in order to solve Canada’s nursing shortage, yet worsens the nursing shortage in a world-wide perspective (Booth, 2002, p. 393).
Although society may be blinded to the nursing shortage, all Canadians are directly and indirectly affected by it. For example, the Canadian Nurses Association (2009) describes the nursing shortage as producing lengthy and frustrating wait times in clinics and hospitals, undesirable environments for patients and untenable work situations for RNs and for the health care team. Nursing is a profession that is essential to the health of many human beings. Unfortunately, Canada is lacking the adequate amount of nurses to maintain the health of society and can no longer tolerate the ratio of one nurse to 136 Canadians (CBC news, 2004) . In order to understand the reasoning for nursing shortage in Canada, the following topics will be discussed; why there is a nursing shortage, causes of nursing shortage and what is being done to solve the nursing shortage.

Why is there a nursing shortage in Canada?

The nursing profession historically and to this day has been comprised of mostly women. Male nurses make up only 5.89% of the nursing workforce in Ontario. This poses a problem as females are now becoming more and more attracted to non-traditional professions such as engineering, medicine, law, accounting, and business (Booth, 2002). As a result of this change, the nursing profession is losing its main source of new recruits. Initiatives have not been made sufficient enough to attract the other 50% of the population. Another cause of the shortage is also related to gender, the stereotyping of nurses is causing potential nurses to shy away from the profession. Not only do the stereotypes reinforce inaccurate, outdated and unprofessional images in the public eye but also affect nurses themselves.
A new trend has arisen in Canada; the numbers and proportions of older adults are increasing. As the postwar baby boomers age, the number of older adults will increase to almost a quarter of the population by 2031 (Beckingham & DuGras, 1993). Not only is the patient population aging but also the workforce serving them. As nurses retire, new recruits are not being sent in to fill the gaps, furthering the shortages.
The nurses’ role has never been simple, but in modern day the role is growing ever more. Nurses are now be used more in community based or primary care services, taking away from the hospital setting (Booth, 2002). Also, nurses are now responsible for the operation and use of a variety of technology that aids in care, causing a challenge to some.

What is being done to solve the nursing shortage?

There are a number of measures being taken to solve the nursing shortage. Encouraging high school and mature students to pursue a university degree in nursing and ways of preventing nurses from leaving the field will be discussed.
One of the main ways to solve the nursing shortage is to increase the supply of new graduates from accredited programs in the Province. In order to graduate an adequate number of nurses one has to first recruit them. There are a lot of competing careers for students to choose from so Universities must have ambitious recruitment campaigns. According to Abrahamson & Hossler (1990), Smith, Barrett, Gerlach, Goodrich & Rose (2003) “marketing strategies, such as publications, direct mail, high school counselors, electronic media, and campus visits, provide exposure for the institution and motivate prospective students to request information and submit an application” (as cited in Hayes, 2007, p. 262).
It is important to ensure that students make informed decisions about their chosen career path. Too often, students enroll in a degree program and part-way through realize they have made a mistake and drop out. This wastes valuable university resources that could be better spent on a student who follows through to graduation and becomes a registered nurse. Hayes (2007) writes “there is a concern that the positive aspects of nursing are dominant, promoting unrealistic career expectations” (p. 265). Hayes also writes “the likelihood of shift work and the need for lifelong learning, advanced education, or specialization to remain competent need to be emphasized” (p. 265).
Not only is recruitment of nursing students vital to solving the nursing shortage, retention of nurses is equally important. Many nurses leave the field of nursing altogether, transfer to part-time hours or take early retirement. According to Hassmiller & Cozine (2006) “nurses cite stress-related burnout and the large amount of time they must spend on non-nursing tasks as top reasons for feeling dissatisfied with their jobs” (p. 268). Hassmiller & Cozine (2006) go on to suggest ways to keep nurses as long-time employees “improvements must be made in the organization of work and use of information technology, physical design and allocation of space, hospital leadership and culture” (p.268). Making it easier for foreign trained nurses to become licensed in the Province will also help to solve the nursing shortage.

What are the effects of the nursing shortage?

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The nursing shortage has a direct affect on both the nurses themselves as well as the clients that they serve. Even though there are fewer nurses, there is the same amount of work that needs to be accomplished, if not more. This puts an excess amount of stress on the remaining working nurses who struggle to maintain efficiency of the health care system and provide adequate care for their clients. The increase demands, and stress levels that coincide with them, lead to the high levels of burnout in nurses. Burnout is composed of both physical and emotional exhaustion caused by stress (Beck, 1995, p. 22). When experiencing burnout, nurses feel physically and emotionally fatigued and lose concentration and motivation for towards their work and overall performance (Beck, 1995, p. 21). Burnout directly affects the nurses’ job satisfaction (Erikson & Grove, 2008, p. 2), which in turn affects their competency. When a nurse's competency is compromised, there is a potential for causing their client harm. Therefore, the nursing profession is struggling to manage the extra responsibilities and work load and to avoid burnout, all as result of the nursing shortage. With the nurses’ competencies reduced, it is causing both the nurses themselves harm and also potentially harm to their clients.

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This paper has determined that there is indeed a nursing shortage, not only in Canada but worldwide. The shortage has a direct effect on our healthcare system. It effects the quality of patient care and influences how well nurses do their jobs. This paper also talked about causes of the nursing shortage and identified initiatives that are being taken to solve the problem.

Links of Interest:


Beck, C.T. (1995), Burnout in Undergraduate nursing students. Nurse Educator, 20 (4), 19-23.

Beckingham, A. C., & DuGras, B. W. (1993). Promoting Healthy Aging: A Nursing and Community Perspective. St Louis, Missouri: Mosby.

Booth, R. Z. (2002). The nursing shortage: a worldwide problem. Rev. Latino-Am. Enfermagem.10 (3), 392-400. doi: 10.1590/S0104-11692002000300013.

Canadian Nurses Association (2009). Retrieved from

CBC news (2004). Taking the pulse of Canada's nurses. December 5, 2009, from
Erikson, R., & Grove, W., (2008). Why emotions matter: Age, agitation, and burnout among registered nurses. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 13 (1), 1-13. Retrieved from

Hassmiller S.B. & Cozine M. (2006). Addressing the nurse shortage to improve the quality of patient care. Health Affairs, 25 (1), 268-274. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.25.1.268

Hayes, L. J. (2007). Recruitment Strategies for Baccalaureate Nursing Students in Ontario. Journal of Nursing Education, 46 (6), 261-268. Retrieved from