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

Valerie Rzepka, the chief nursing and midwifery officer of Nunavut, left, poses for a selfie with Leigh Chapman, Canada’s chief nursing officer, in Pangnirtung during a visit to Nunavut this week. (Photo courtesy of Valerie Rzepka)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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.”

Kitikmeot Community Futures Inc., Job Opportunity – Executive Director

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.”


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(28) Comments:

  1. Posted by Lol on

    “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.”

    Oh yes, leaving your home community as a full grown adult to pursue higher education is totally colonial. Of course canadas top nurse would say this. ?

    • Posted by Lol on

      To even consider moving on go college you need a high school diploma, which is obtained in the home community. Need to fix nunavut’s joke of a high school graduation rate first.

      • Posted by Graduates on

        How many of Nunavut’s 250 high school graduates each year have the qualifications to get into a nursing program, without a couple of “make-up” years?

    • Posted by A prayer to the local gods on

      Perhaps a little cringe, but to be charitable, she probably felt compelled to pay tribute to the fashions that might win her some slice of approval if not favour here.

  2. Posted by ? on

    On tax payers $$ what the hell did this accomplish nothing waste of $$$

  3. Posted by Hunter on

    As there is a massive nursing shortage across the entire country, nurses are overworked and to retain more nurses, we need to make their job less stressful and taxing. Solution full all positions and create more positions to reduce the work load on our nurses.

    Short Term Solution:

    Canada to Identify nursing candidates from outside the country, make sure they pass all the english/french requirements, and pass a standard test for nurses from abroad so they can practice in Canada. If there are area’s candidate need more education and training to certify provide them the courses they require, retest.

    Grant specialized work VISA’s to candidates that meet all the required requirments that allow these foreign nurses to work in the territories for a minimum of 5 years and they become Canadian citizens after this period of time and would be able move and obtain work anywhere in Canada.

    This will solve the nursing problem in Northern Canada and there will be a trickle down effect when nurses move south eventually.. Territories will be able to repeat the process and higher more foreign nurses.

    This will take 1-2 years to see the effects

    Long Term Solution:

    Glorify working in Canada’s Health Care system as a nurse, run massive recruitment campaigns in all high schools in Canada, open up more nursing spots in college, provide 100% free tuition and living grants to anyone enrolled in a nursing program,

    This will take 5-10 years to see the effects

    Barely a high school education here but I just made a plan to solve the nursing problem short term and long term, wishing I had the power and authority to implement it.

    • Posted by Start Now on

      To Hunter:
      You write “wishing I had the power and authority to implement it”.
      Start planning your campaign to be your community’s next MLA.
      Find like-minded people in other communities and encourage them to campaign to be MLAs.
      Get enough good people elected as MLAs in the next election to vote for Premier and Cabinet Ministers.
      That’s how you get “the power and authority” to implement your plans.
      It’s not easy, but it is doable.
      Start now.

  4. Posted by Aputi on

    Stop complaining and tell your kids to become nurse or a doctor, stop spoiling them too much

    • Posted by Hunter on

      How are you going to entice your children to become nurses? What would be your pitch?

      “Dear child, you should become a nurse. You will go to school for 4 years. You will end up owing $30,000 in student loans by the time you are finished even if you work full time. When you find a job as a nurse you will be required to work 7 days a week, you will have no personal life, you will have no time for self care, you will burn out in less than a year.”

      Great advice.

      • Posted by H.G. Omger on

        Assuming (pretending) that is what it would cost $30,000 is not a whole lot. Look at the money people waste on skidoos and trucks that last a few years. $30,000 is a bargain for well paid lifelong career.

        Being a nurse ensures you have a well paid, high demand a career that can give you mobility anywhere in the country, even around the world.

        • Posted by Hunter on

          Nurse = long hours, schedule that does not permit a personal life, toxic work environment (from managers and/or clients), burnout, PTSD, front line pandemic worker, lack of funding, understaffed, under appreciated, the list of grievances is so long I cannot list them all.

          If any one of my children want to become a nurse I wont stop them but I wont encourage them to become one either.

        • Posted by Hunter on

          Oh forgot to mention, there were once upon a time Inuit nurses and midwives employed with the Government of Nunavut, If you do some research, their resignation made headlines in Nunavut.

      • Posted by FANS on

        Did you ever hear about FANS? Eligible beneficiaries basically get paid for everything. Allowance, rent, tuition, flights and forgivable loans. If this is not an encouragement, what is?

        • Posted by 867 on

          maybe hunter was referring to non-beneficiaries?

        • Posted by Been There on

          FANS does not provide enough funding in the basic and supplementary grants to pay rent, tuition, and basic expenses for a month. Single person gets just over $1000 a month for living allowance. Where can you rent a place, pay utilities, buy groceries, pay for transportation, etc., for $1000 a month. FANS has not increased it funding in decades. A student loan is necessary to supplement the grants.

      • Posted by Balance on

        > you will have no personal life, you will have no time for self care, you will burn out in less than a year

        This isn’t a problem of the profession so much as it is personal life balance. Everything will burn you out. Every job can and sometimes will affect your self care. Every job leaves little room for a personal life, although I will admit the high hourly demands of a nurse is above and beyond what should be allowable. We don’t let truckers drive for more than 8 hours or else it’s unsafe. I think the same rules should apply to doctors and nurses.

        $30k debt is peanuts for a rewarding education. Teachers down south come out with $60k debt and look forward to $50k/y jobs.

  5. Posted by Get a grip on

    “Chapman said Pangnirtung was an especially important community for her to visit because it has been impacted by a tuberculosis outbreak”

    Yes, and it also happens to be Nunavut’s most scenic community and close to a breathtakingly beautiful National Park, just perfect for a July junket on the taxpayer time. So weird that these guys never seem to find the time to visit in January!

    I wonder if she managed to squeeze some time to hike up Mt. Duval, or take a boat ride or hike into the park? Lovely selfie!

    • Posted by Uhh on

      *maybe 4th most scenic.

      1. Pond Inlet 2. Grise Fiord 3. Arctic Bay

      But only those that have travelled past Pangnirtung truly know this

      • Posted by Lol on

        Oh sure.

      • Posted by Been there, done that on

        It’s a matter of opinion. I’ve been to all the Baffin communities, and have spent lots of time in those you list, and most consider Pang to be the most iconically beautiful. I personally prefer Arctic Bay myself due to the variety, but Pang is much more obviously breathtaking and is an obvious hot spot for vacation travellers like this lady.

  6. Posted by Simple on

    What a joke it is for a chief nursing officer from Ontario to come and assess about pang for a TB out break. Does she know that there are other communities in Nunavut also affected with TB out break. What solutions did she bring to fix shortage of staffing now to address with her visit. Waste of tax payers money for a trip to Nunavut. Nunavut govt always encourage people to bring and show them but never make an effort to improve with available resources. It’s like paying 200,000$ to read suicide prevention report.

  7. Posted by Northerner on

    I recommend Inuit tell her the challenges we face as a northerner. Tell her how staff at health centers are. What they do. Tell her what you guys like and don’t like. Even the experience when you get sent out.

  8. Posted by A Long Time Running In This Game. on

    Government of Nunavut wants more Nurses hired by them, working for them…? Then stop paying ridiculous amounts of money to agency fees, their Nurses and now Advanced Care Paramedics and instead pour every red cent back into Nursing. Put that money into their salaries, benefits, annual bonuses, rents, new positions and educations. And while the GN is doing this, let Canada know that there is no place more accommodating and rewarding for Nurses than Nunavut. They will come once it’s too good not to.

    • Posted by Scrubs on

      The agencies are the reason Nunavut has staffing at all.

      The GN rarely pays on time, doesn’t pay for baggage, charges for accommodations…management is ferociously toxic. I’ve seen a number of agency nurses offer to book six months worth of contracts in advance, and be turned down…only to have the GN come crawling back at the last moment and ask for them to fly out. By that time, however, the nurses have secured a contract elsewhere (we do need to eat, after all).

      Very few people are going to commit to moving to a small community for years on end, at least not without dipping a toe in first; usually as an agency nurse.

      The biggest thing you can do to encourage more nurses to come back is to gut senior Healthcare management.

  9. Posted by Where’s the package? on

    In 2019 then Chief Nursing Officer and now ADM said there would be changes.

    Many stopped waiting when COVID ended.
    $5000-7500 bonus to go to Yukon or NWT. Same pension. Higher or same pay. Way less toxicity and support from management. Betters locations with LCOL and improve QOL. Education time off and conferences encouraged. Vacations granted.
    Nunavut is getting the recruitment numbers it deserves with a pervasive reputation of generally being a terrible place to work. I tell every nurse my experiences and always recommend against doing anything but locum in Nunavut.
    Unless you drain the swamp that is Health senior management you can expect more of the same for the next decade.
    How to fix recruitment
    .30% salary increase or “market adjustment”
    .2 round trip flights to the nearest hub annually
    .5 weeks vacation guaranteed.
    .-$1 a month staff housing.

  10. Posted by Nurses on

    You want more Inuit Nurses.
    You are talking to the wrong people.
    Talk to the students in grade 9.
    Ask them what they want out of life.
    Ask them what would encourage them to prepare for a career as a nurse.
    Ask them what support they need to prepare to become a nurse.
    To those who reply with “I don’t know”, respond, “that’s OK. Think about it. Let’s talk again in a month or two.”

  11. Posted by Auutut on

    Hire more full time LPNs.

  12. Posted by Tooma on

    We fill out application for complain form patient relations, it doesn’t work. It only works with people with power. It do t matter our concerns are pointless. Its bad why have nurses living in Nunavut making alot of money when applications don’t even get looked into.

Comments are closed.