In recent years, upwards of half of working RNs have not had full-time employment. This is a most unusual circumstance for any profession, and serves as a stark contrast with other jurisdictions, like the US, where 71.6% of RNs are full-time. This disproportionate amount of part-time and casual work is a threat to the quality of patient care, to the viability of the health care system, and to the nursing profession itself.
The recent SARS outbreak, marked by heroic efforts on the part of nurses and other health-care providers, also dramatically underscored the problem in relying on casual nursing positions. Many nurses were directed to work in one place only. This reality heightened the staffing shortage, placed nurses under extreme duress from even heavier workloads and added additional financial stress to those nurses who were unable to continue their practice in other settings.
SARS was a reminder that we currently have no redundancy or safety cushion in our health-care system, and left us gravely concerned about its capacity to deal with another crisis.
It is even more urgent to know more about registered nurses who are currently working part-time or casual and to ask the following questions. Are RNs working part-time or casual by choice? If not, what are the barriers to full-time employment? If so, are they doing so because there is something about the work that discourages full-time employment? We understand that some RNs may prefer part-time employment at certain points in their careers, but it is critical to investigate why such a high fraction are currently not working full-time.
To discover the attitudes and experiences of non-full-time RNs in Ontario, RNAO sent out a survey to 5,000 RNs who had registered in 2001 as being part-time or casual in nursing. The response rate was considerable – 40.6% – high for a survey that relied on one mailing with no follow-up calls or mailings. It is encouraging that so many RNs took the time to share their views. The large response rate gives us high confidence that the results are representative of the overall population (the global 95% confidence interval is respectably small – plus-or-minus 2.11%). Our sample profile closely matches that of the overall population quite closely, so we are further assured that it is representative.