UNB strike could bar students from nursing placements

UNB nurses cannot get required clinical hours; a strike at Dalhousie would mean the same for its students

UNB students have set a symbolic table to try and get the administration and faculty union back to the negotiation table. (Photo: Shane Fowler)

Nursing students in New Brunswick are unable to get their required clinical hours due to the faculty strike at the institution, potentially delaying graduation.

If Nova Scotia universities go on strike, nursing students could be put in the same predicament. The UNB faculty strike began January 13.

The faculty union wanted higher salaries to reach the average wage similar sized schools provide for their instructors. Nursing students at UNB, the only nursing school in the province, are unable to go to their clinical placements during the strike even though they do not work directly with their unionized university instructors while there.

“I’m in my fourth year and I’m supposed to graduate in May,” said nursing student Emily Waugh. “We need to have 1,488 clinical hours before the end of February.”

After February, under a normal schedule, UNB nursing students are supposed to work for six weeks with a registered nurse to get the experience of what a full-time nursing schedule is like. Without this, UNB nursing students are unable to write the standardized Canadian Registered Nurse Examination.

“It isn’t UNB who decides how many clinical hours we need,” said Waugh. “The Nurses Association of New Brunswick … can’t condense and make exceptions for us. I can’t imagine how stressful it’s going to be once this strike is over.”

A similar system is in place in Nova Scotia where registered nurses are regulated by the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia. When St. Francis Xavier University went on strike last year, the nursing students were unable to file their clinical hours for three weeks. After the strike, they were able to make up for lost time through optional Saturday classes.

The longest that UNB can extend the semester for their students is one week. Nursing students across Canada write the Registered Nurse exams on set days. Waugh and many of her classmates was expecting to write her exam on June 4.

“It’s looking more and more likely that this won’t be possible. Depending when we are able to make up the hours, we will either be required to wait until October, or next June,” said Waugh.

Registered nurses who have passed the exam are more likely to find employment than those who have graduated school and are waiting to write.

“Every employer I can think of would hire someone as a registered nurse who has passed the exam,” said Waugh.

The College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia’s 2012 report states that 91.5 per cent of new graduates who passed the exam in the province were able to find some form of employment. About 57 per cent of the new graduates who passed the exam had secured full-time regular positions.

With the possibility that New Brunswick students might not be able to write their exams on time, Nova Scotia nursing students may have less competition for employment. However, nursing students at Dalhousie may go through the same struggle if the university went on strike.

“Nursing students would not be able to continue in a clinical placement at Dalhousie in the event of a strike because faculty are required to be available for supervision,” said nursing professor director Mary van Soeren.

Dalhousie’s faculty contract ends this upcoming June. The school was able to avoid a strike back in 2012 when the current contract was being negotiated.