The Ontario government is providing a boost for nurses, but only if you take the exam

Ok, it’s time to talk medicine and public policy, lots of us are either teaching their exams or writing about them.

Ontario is finishing exams for its new clinical nurse specialist program, which, once completed, will let qualified nurses work as primary care doctors. Candidates are taking the exams as part of a month-long promotion, which you should watch. Here’s how it looks (video not included):

This is the kind of work we want to send Ontarians to hospitals and home care to do more of: specialized nursing with personalized clinical understanding of patient needs. In other words, working with people, supporting them and helping them get better. Only nurses can do this work effectively, yet nurse-to-patient ratios are already too low. Patients are waiting too long in hospital. Care-givers are too often exhausted. And the costs of keeping these patients out of hospital and quality of care are rising.

So nurses deserve to be paid a lot more. One estimate puts the proper ratio for Ontario at one nurse to 10 patients, more like the ratio in most other places around the world. The reality, as in other places, is that in Ontario nurse-to-patient ratios are considerably less than that.

If we didn’t want to bring quality care to our hospitals, why build them at all? We know Ontario’s hospitals are often just too crowded. Our government-funded hospitals are running out of space to deliver higher quality care. Hospitals can’t keep up. The patients can’t be cared for, as health-care providers spend so much time just making sure patients are safe and safe places, which means less time with patients. It means safety-valve failures in the case of deadly infections, excess wait times to see a specialist, inadequate privacy and inadequate care – and the regulatory body, the College of Nurses of Ontario, has issued dozens of warnings about serious and systemic health care problems at hospitals.

So we need to build these hospitals, but nurses must be paid a lot more for the work that is required to provide good patient care. We don’t want to build hospitals without nurses, we don’t want to keep on building new ones just to keep patients away from some of the substandard ones. And, once we get to the point that we have enough nursing capacity, we’ll need to fully staff the hospitals to make sure patients get high-quality care. We know that if we’re going to have all of those great hospitals, we need to pay nurses well for doing something good.

And that’s just what we’re going to do – we’re going to double or triple pay for clinical nurse specialists over the next five years. That’s a very important thing to get right.

This pay increase will start in April 2019 and last for five years, phased in over two years. It is significant. It is targeted. And most importantly, it will allow nurses to do more of the work that we know is helping patients and has good outcomes.

If you believe in improving patient care, public policy and nursing, please let your friend, family member or colleague know about this very important issue. Supporting higher-quality care and increasing nurse pay for caring for patients is a problem that can’t be solved overnight, but it’s one that we know can be addressed as we work with our health care system and our funding, and as we look to build hospitals and the infrastructure to pay the nurses who will work there.

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