Mary (BScN 2005) earned her RN diploma from Sault College in 1998. After working part-time for two years, she moved to Berkeley, California, for full-time employment. She returned to Canada in 2002 to work at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Sudbury Regional Hospital – but again, she found only part-time employment. From 2002–2005, she completed her BScN degree and earned her certification as a primary health-care nurse practitioner at Laurentian University.
Armed with credentials, experience, and education, she sought full-time work in her field, but the situation in Canada remained bleak. Nurse practitioners could not find employment; there were seven unemployed nurse practitioners in Greater Sudbury alone. McGuire went back to the United States a second time for a full-time contract position in Washington, D.C.
“It was a bit of a hassle getting the visa the first time, and it was tough for me to leave my parents. I didn’t want to. I love Canada.”
Considering the lucrative signing deal, switching ‘teams’ was the obvious choice. “I got a $5,000 sign-on bonus for a three-month contract. When you finish school, you’ve got lots of debt and that kind of incentive looks pretty inviting. I was making $20 an hour here [in Canada]. The job I applied for in the United States paid $30 an hour. Plus, I worked a 24-hour week and qualified for benefits. Even more than the money, it was the full benefits.”
Although she truly wanted to live and work in Canada, and in particular, in northern Ontario, McGuire couldn’t see a way to make that happen. It wasn’t until she received an email from Marilyn Butcher that her prospects began to brighten.
By then, a decade of lobbying had finally paid off. Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman had announced funding for a nurse practitioner clinic, and Butcher was in charge of setting it up. Recognizing the time was right to reach out to nurse practitioners who had moved away, she began emailing McGuire to tell her “it was time to come home.”
“I kept Mary informed of our plans,” Butcher recalls. “had never been given an opportunity to work here as a nurse practitioner. I was doing a locum (providing temporary replacement services) at the Chapleau Medical Centre. I knew that Mary wanted to work here in the clinic, so I was able to convince her to come up to Chapleau with me and see patients.”
Washington had just ended, so instead of taking a short-term position in Florida, McGuire accepted the locum offer. “offered to be a mentor, to go with me to Chapleau for the first time, [with the plan that] I would step in to fill the gap. Not too many nurse practitioners get to start out with a mentor to show them the ropes. I couldn’t pass it up.”
When the Sudbury District Nurse Practitioner Clinics began taking patients at the Riverside Medical Centre location in August
2007, McGuire was there.
“If it wasn’t for Marilyn’s persistence, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve been a nurse since 1998 and it’s the first time I’ve been employed in Canada and had benefits.”
Repatriation of experienced health-care providers to northern
Ontario is not limited to nurse practitioners. The Sudbury Regional Hospital is actively searching for nurses in all disciplines who have left the area.
Recruiting staff have attended association career fairs, including the May 2008 symposium for the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. As well, advertisements have run in The Standard, a College of Nurses of Ontario publication. The Sudbury Regional Hospital has also begun placing ads in local post-secondary alumni magazines (including Laurentian Magazine).
“We’re trying to reach anyone who has left, so that we can get the word out”, says Ann-Marie Mills, human resources advisor, nursing recruitment at Sudbury Regional Hospital. “If they’ve been gone for 10 years, they probably aren’t aware that we are moving to one-site, and that the community now has teaching hospitals and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.”
“We have increased our full-time staffing arrangements. There is definitely more of an opportunity for people, especially in our critical care area. We’re doing everything we can think of to recruit new grads and experienced nurses.”
There is the ripple effect to consider, too. Recruitment campaigns undertaken in other fields have provided unexpected benefits, according to Mills. “We’re finding a lot are coming back because of Vale Inco and Xstrata.” When a whole family makes the move back, the spouse may get scooped up by local employers, including the health-care profession.
Another draw is government funding, which is the backbone for the repatriation of health-care professionals. In the last Ontario budget, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a funding envelope of $38 million to open 25 nurse practitioner clinics. During a recent visit to the Sudbury District Nurse Practitioner Clinics, the premier announced a timeline to open the next three clinics.
This additional funding comes on the heels of the $87 million the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has allocated for Ontario’s Nursing Graduate Guarantee. The program, which gives new nurses on-the-job training opportunities upon graduation, was launched in 2007 and has been extended for another year.
Prior to the guarantee, 40 per cent of the registered nurses in Ontario found full-time work after graduating. Since February 2007, 89 per cent of new nursing graduates are working full-time.
While those statistics are remarkable, the work placement guarantee only lasts for a period of about seven months, and is meant to provide a stop-gap measure. (It is important to note that after searching job postings on the HealthForceOntario website in the northeast region of Ontario on April 16, 2008, there were 46 available positions for registered nurses. Of those postings, there were two full-time permanent positions available.)
Although the situation still doesn’t seem ideal, McGuire feels it is improving.
“The funding in our health-care system is starting to make positions available. Compared to 10 years ago, things are definitely looking up. If nurses are interested in coming home, they should check on a regular basis, because the changes are happening.”
Moving back to Canada has been a far easier transition for McGuire than her move to the United States. She is now living near her family and friends, and her fiancé, Dave Geroux. He was in northern Ontario while she was in the U.S.
“I feel like I am exactly where I have always wanted to be – in my career and life. If I had not come back to Canada, I would probably still be travelling around; not having my feet firmly planted in one spot and constantly searching for a place where I could feel that grounding. I wouldn’t feel the peace that I feel now.”