Job retention on agenda as Canada’s top nurse tours Nunavut
Access to education cited as a key challenge in hiring, keeping nurses in the North
Nursing education and retention are two key issues on the mind of Leigh Chapman, Canada’s chief nursing officer, as she concludes a visit to Nunavut this week.
Chapman arrived in Iqaluit July 26 and spent the past week visiting nurses and community members with Nunavut’s chief nursing officer, Valerie Rzepka.
The two visited Qikiqtani General Hospital, the Government of Nunavut’s mental health and addictions team, and other health and social service providers in Iqaluit. As well, they made a trip to Pangnirtung.
Chapman said she wants to work with representatives from all of the territory’s regions to improve health care Nunavut-wide.
“It’s harder to meet front-line nurses unless you actually hit the ground running and visit nurses across the country, so that’s essentially why I’m here,” she said.
“It’s a huge country, it’s a huge territory.”
In the North, staffing shortages in health care frequently cause community health centres to temporarily close.
Chapman said the federal government offers some initiatives to encourage recent nursing graduates to pursue jobs in the North for two years in exchange for student loan forgiveness.
However, having a rotating cohort of southern nurses is not a long-term solution, she said, and a more robust retention strategy is needed.
She noted that in some remote parts of western Canada, programs emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic that brought in-community nursing education to students. She said that should be available in the North.
“I think those are models that could be replicated where students could learn in-community without having to leave the comforts of their home,” she said.
Not having access to that service “can have a recolonizing effect of having to leave your home community just to receive the education that you desire.”
For that reason, one of the other visits on Chapman’s itinerary was to Nunavut Arctic College to learn about the nursing program offered there.
Rzepka echoed much of what Chapman had to say about education and retention.
“I think that one of the big things that both Leigh and I are working on together is this recruitment strategy, the retention strategy and our challenges with hiring nurses and keeping them in the North,” she said.
Nunatsiaq News asked Rzepka about another ongoing issue Nunavut faces when it comes to retention of nurses: unhealthy workplaces and bullying.
“Having a good leader to be able to guide the team through those murky waters I think is very important,” she said.
“And having those skills, the leaders taught those skills, how to deal with challenging situations, I think is important.”
Rzepka said her team is working on leadership training and education around the issue of workplace bullying.
Addressing tuberculosis in Pangnirtung
Chapman said Pangnirtung was an especially important community for her to visit because it has been impacted by a tuberculosis outbreak that has been ongoing since 2021.
“It was really, really helpful to see the interaction between the community and the health centre and the staff,” Chapman said of her time there.
She said that in the long run, the community needs better access to good quality housing to address that health crisis.
“[There are] overcrowded situations and you can just see in the community the number of houses that are boarded up,” Chapman said.
“The link between housing, precarious housing, income security, food security, food scarcity and health is really, really key.”
Rzepka praised the health team in Pangnirtung for its work in managing the challenge, and said more screening will be coming soon.
“They’re going to be doing a community-wide screening this fall for TB,” she said.
“Just seeing how the entire hamlet has joined together to try and eradicate the TB outbreak, that was something important I wanted [Chapman] to see as well.”