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More nurses needed for rural Ontario

November 15, 2006

Source: McMaster University

by Theresa NoonanNovember 15, 2006

The sustainability of the nursing workforce and delivery of quality patient care could be threatened in rural areas of Ontario, according to a McMaster University study.

The New Healthcare Worker: Implications of Changing Employment Patterns in Rural and Community Hospitals identifies concerns that need to be addressed if residents in less populated areas of Ontario are to receive the best care.

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care commissioned McMaster's Nursing Health Services Research Unit (NHSRU) to conduct a study on the rural nursing workforce. It focused on 19 rural hospitals in Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) 2 in southwest Ontario, and examined how employment patterns have evolved.

Dr. Andrea Baumann, lead author on the study and Co-director of NHSRU, McMaster University site, says that while it is difficult to create an accurate profile of nurses in rural hospitals because the available data is limited and out of date, study findings indicate that new nursing graduates and experienced nurses from urban settings find it hard to transition to rural nursing practice.

Nurses refer to rural nursing practice as a specialty. Rural nurses need broad skill sets and knowledge from a variety of specializations. They are cross-trained because they work across diverse patient care areas.

The research team found some rural hospitals do not have the resources to implement government strategies designed to address nursing workforce issues.

Managers prefer a high proportion of part-time staff to ensure coverage in their units, but hiring part-time nurses has not created the flexibility needed to cover units on short notice. The researchers found that having enough staff to meet contingent demands is challenging in rural hospitals.

"The rural workforce needs to be renewed, but there is concern about where the new staff will come from and how they will be integrated," says Baumann.

Hospitals in rural areas have a smaller pool of staff to draw from than those in urban centres, and rural hospitals recruit few young graduates. Innovative co-op programs for high school students and scholarships to study rural nursing should be made available, says Baumann.

The recommendations for change are listed in the report available on the Nursing Health Services Research Unit website.



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