EDITORIAL: Nurse and doctor shortage requires creative solutions

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Nunavut is suffering as a result of a medical staffing shortage, and it doesn’t appear anyone has a solution.

Arviat North – Whale Cove MLA John Main discusses how the staffing shortage is affecting his constituency – and the rest of Nunavut – in this week’s edition (the article first appeared in Kivalliq News), and notes there is no magic bullet that can stop the problem.

The Canadian Nurses Association notes that without policy interventions, Canada will be short 60,000 registered nurses in 2022. With an aging population nationally (Nunavut being the outlier here), our country (and many others around the world) will continue to need an increasing number of trained health professionals.

Nursing schools simply can’t keep up with the demand. The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario notes that universities can only graduate as many nurses as they get funding for, and there is also a shortage of nurses with PhDs who are qualified to teach nursing students.

Nunavut Arctic College is training Nunavummiut to be nurses at the Iqaluit campus but the program may never be able to fill all of the nursing positions in the territory. We will continue to rely on southern imports for a very long time.

Despite offering one of the best compensation packages in the country, and despite the federal government offering loan forgiveness to nurses and doctors who work in remote communities, many health professionals don’t even have Nunavut on their radar.

Many of those who come to Nunavut are committed to providing quality health care to Nunavummiut. They love their work and love the territory. In return, we overwork them (the Department of Health spent $13 million on overtime in 2016-17) and we provide them with insufficient supports to make their time here a positive experience.

The overwhelming workload has resulted in mistakes in diagnosis and care. Last winter, Iglulik’s mayor raised his community’s concerns about the workload after a child died during a flu outbreak.

Greed and racism – sadly evident in some southern imports – has also resulted in injury and in some instances death due to carelessness.

If you need evidence that this second cohort exists, look to Facebook, where one Iqaluit resident reported overhearing three young health care professionals – believed to be on locum assignments – leaving the capital and openly joking about the health of Nunavummiut.

The city should put antibiotics in the water, the woman overheard, because “everyone has chlamydia,” and that one of the trio’s three-week illness could be attributed to “TB hahaha.”

The post drew the attention of Iqaluit MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone, and the woman reported the incident to the Government of Nunavut, which promised it was taking action.

It’s obvious Nunavut needs more people who want to be here and want to stay long-term.

First, that means Inuit, who need to be encouraged to pursue this career. But our second thought leans toward the immigrants who are already building strong community connections here. Other jurisdictions are looking to the Philippines, which is the largest exporter of health care professionals. Considering Nunavut’s strong Filipino community, it makes sense the territory would invest in recruiting more Filipinos.

This problem needs creative and aggressive solutions. No more Nunavummiut should die just because our health care workers don’t have the backup they deserve.

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