Policy and Political Action

Policy & Political Action

Earning Their Return - When & Why Ontario RNs Left Canada, and What Will Bring Them Back


The past decade has been extremely challenging for Ontario’s registered nurses. Dramatic fluctuations in employment opportunities, driven by funding cuts and short-sighted policy initiatives 1, led many RNs to leave the province, the country and even the profession. By 1998, Ontario ranked last in the country in the ratio of nurses per population.

In 1999, the Ontario government committed to funding 12,000 new, permanent nursing positions (registered nurse and registered practical nurse) before the end of 2000. This commitment followed recommendations made by the nursing community in the report Good Nursing Good Health.2

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) funded several initiatives, including: targeted monies to health-care organizations to hire nurses (RNs and RPNs) to new, permanent, full-time and part-time positions 3; career days/job fairs; educational opportunities; career counselling; marketing campaigns to enhance the desirability of nursing as a career choice; and more.

These initiatives have served to improve the situation. College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) data for the year 2000 indicates that employment in the province has risen by 4,600 RN positions and 980 RPN positions over 1999 4. At this point, we remain short by approximately 6,420 nursing positions.

The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) is unwavering in its commitment to work with all stakeholders to find solutions to the nursing human resource problems. To this end, we are leading many important initiatives to retain and recruit nurses into the profession.

This report represents a proactive approach to bringing Ontario’s registered nurses back home. In December of 2000, RNAO mailed a survey to 3,272 registered nurses who currently reside outside of Canada and who have maintained their Ontario registration with the College of Nurses of Ontario. Our assumption is that these registered nurses are more likely to consider returning to Ontario.

The results of this survey are encouraging. The 32.9% response rate from RNs from across the world (36.6%. from the US) shows the active interest of these nurses. Their answers to the survey reinforce previous recommendations made in the Good Nursing, Good Health 5 and Ensuring the Care Will Be There reports. 6

Their answers also reveal the key factors that influenced their departure, and what would encourage them to return. One critical finding of this survey is the unequivocal desire of respondents to attain full-time, stable employment. Without it, these RNs tell us, they will not return.

We must act immediately to address the issues so powerfully identified in these results. We must do it to retain nurses currently practicing in Ontario, and to attract registered nurses working abroad. We must do it to ensure the care will be there for all Ontario residents.

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