More than three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s health care system continues to face challenges in caring for patients, particularly on the part of nurses and related occupations.
In the first quarter of 2023, job vacancies for registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses increased by 5,475 positions, or nearly one quarter (24.0%), to 28,335 from the same quarter in 2022. This is the highest numerical increase observed among all occupations across the labour market.
The average hourly wage offered for these vacant positions was $34.00 in the first quarter of 2023, up 2.9% from the same quarter of 2022. By comparison, the average offered hourly wage, adjusted for composition effects among all occupations across the labour market, rose by 3.5% over the same period.
Ranking second and third on that list? Job vacancies for licensed practical nurses were up by 2,290, or one-fifth (+20.2%), to 13,620 positions over the same period, while those for nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates grew by 1,810 (+8.3%) to 23,715 positions.
It’s a stark contrast, considering that across the labour market, job vacancies have declined for three straight quarters from the record high in the second quarter of 2022.
And, as our recent and historical labour data show, nurses’ workloads have increased.
One-third of nurses working overtime
In 2022, there were 392,100 Canadians working as professionals in nursing and allied health occupations, an occupational group that includes nurse practitioners, nursing coordinators and supervisors, and midwives.
About 3 in 10 employees in nursing (30.3%) reported working overtime, nearly double the proportion observed in 1997 (15.7%), the beginning of the current data series.
For comparison, across all occupational groups, an average of less than 2 in 10 employees (18.2%) reported working overtime in 2022, a proportion virtually unchanged compared with 1997 (18.6%).
Nurses and allied health professionals who worked overtime hours added an average of 8.2 overtime hours per week in 2022, the highest amount on record. About 1 in 10 (10.2%) worked unpaid overtime, higher than the average across all occupations (8.7%).
A Statistics Canada analysis from 2020 shows that about one-quarter (26%) of nurses worked overtime in April and May, during the first wave of the pandemic. While this proportion was unchanged for nurses in comparison with 2019, it was a very different situation for workers in other occupations. Other workers’ overtime work significantly diminished in April and May 2020 relative to 2019.
Absent nearly one month out of the year
Nurses and allied health professionals were absent from work for an average of 19 days in 2022 due to illness or disability—nearly one month, based on a five-day workweek—up from 14.7 days in 2021.
Among all major occupational groups, nurses saw the biggest increase (+4.2 days) in such absences from 2019 to 2020, the first year of the pandemic.
In 2020, only those working in assisting occupations in health—including nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates—were absent more days due to illness or disability (21.0 days) than nurses (19.0 days). These absences were amid personal protective equipment shortages and before vaccines became available at the end of the year.
Many workers doing double duty in 2022
Statistics Canada tracks the numbers of workers in various occupations that are multiple jobholders. While the nature of the second job varies, workers in nursing and related occupations may work shifts in other clinics, care homes or hospitals.
In 2022, there were 131,600 Canadians working in health occupations that held at least one other job. Among those multiple jobholders were 26,000 nursing and allied health professionals.
This is down from 27,600 multiple jobholders in 2021. An all-time high of 29,100 worked another job in 2019, followed by the steepest yearly decline on record to 18,000 in 2020.
What have nurses told us?
According to the Survey on Health Care Workers’ Experience During the Pandemic, conducted from September to November 2021, one-third (34%) of nurses indicated they were planning to stay at their current job less than three years.
Among these nurses, the top reasons indicated included job stress or burnout (55%), concerns about mental health and well-being (48%) and lack of job satisfaction (40%). Over one-third (37%) of these nurses indicated they were considering retiring.
At the time, job vacancies for registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses more than doubled (+117%) to 22,955 in the fourth quarter of 2021, compared with the same quarter in 2019.
Over the same period, vacancies nearly tripled for licensed practical nurses (+190% to 10,765), alongside an 81% increase to 20,490 openings for nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates. These three occupations made up more than two-thirds (68.8%) of all vacancies among health occupations in the fourth quarter of 2022, virtually unchanged compared with the fourth quarter of 2021 (70.0%).
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