Is free education the answer to the nursing shortage?

The nursing shortage was predicted in Ontario way back in 2009.

Premier Doug Ford recently announced an expansion to Ontario’s Learn and Stay Grant. Starting in Sept. 2023, the Ontario government will be offering to pay for tuition and books for nursing, paramedic students, and medical lab technicians who agree to work for six months for every year they studied in the city of their educational institution. Ontario has been facing a nursing and healthcare profession shortage for years. We can’t simply blame the pandemic.

The nursing shortage was predicted in Ontario way back in 2009 according to the Canadian Nursing Association, which said Canada could see a shortage of 60,000 full-time nurses by 2022, due to situations like retirement projections. The projection did not take the pandemic into consideration, which added a tremendous upheaval to the already stressed healthcare system. Free education is a great idea, but the logistics of it somehow don’t add up. Ford almost takes a flippant approach by offering free education; does he think professors are kept in a cupboard, and when needed are pulled out, dusted off and you then just press the push to start button, and they’re good to go? Fanshawe College currently has more students than it ever has. This is most likely due to government initiatives like free education to train as a personal support worker and the retraining of workers due to injuries acquired on the job, which is a requirement when claiming workers compensation.

In Sept. 2023, not only will the number of students increase due to students entering the nursing program, but so will the need for teachers to educate these students, the number of course advisors to support these students, as well as the tutors to assist students.

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In an article by the CBC, “Canada is facing a nursing shortage. Here’s why it’s hard to fill the gap,” the lack of highly important clinical placements for students was highlighted. This is just another way that an increase of students could actually lead to less opportunities overall. Chaotic is the word that comes to mind when I hear the words “free tuition.”

Radical solutions such as throwing free education at a problem is simplistic at best. It sounds to me that the college’s and hospital’s books have no chance of balancing; there will be deficits in one way or another. You can’t increase the student population without increasing the number of educators and facilitators. It’s time to get a government who doesn’t stick its head in the sand and pretend all its problems will go away with mismanaged grand gestures that are more delusions of grandeur than leadership.

The next challenge that needs addressing is once the nurses are trained, you also must keep them in the industry. Historically, after a few years of overwork and underpay, nurses exit the profession. For the nursing and healthcare aide shortages not to perpetuate the pay, working conditions and the mental burden of these new employees of the profession will need to be tackled. If not, we will be facing the possibility perhaps of a USA style private health care system. If that happens, I pray you can all afford to become ill, because it will be very costly.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.