Thinking of becoming a nurse, but don’t know where to start?
Guest experts for today's Q&A on the nursing profession were Judy Britnell, director of the Learning and Teaching Office at Ryerson University, and Sylvia Rodgers, professional practice leader for nursing at The Scarborough Hospital.
Q: I am an oncology nurse presently working in the U.S. I graduated from Ryerson's nursing program and spent 15 years working in Ontario. My husband had an opportunity to work in the U.S. so I wrote the NCLEX and found full-time employment here even before my results came back.
It has been seven years now and we would like to return to Canada but there is a lack of full-time positions. I have e-mailed several hospital human resources departments with my resume but have yet to receive acknowledgements - waiting months in most cases. Does my U.S. experience make me less attractive as an applicant?
Answer from Sylvia Rodgers ... I don't believe your U.S. experience makes you a less attractive applicant, in fact I think your 22 years of experience in Canada and the U.S. should make you very attractive. I think maybe you need to reconsider your strategy of e-mailing HR departments. You are more likely to get a response if you apply for specific vacancies rather than just sending out your resume. Try searching the web sites of employers who interest you; most will post available nursing positions. The RNAO web site also has an RN career section where positions are posted. You might also ask yourself if your resume needs a makeover to really showcase your skills and abilities. Remember your cover letter and resume create the first impression so you want it to be a good one. Good luck in your search!
Q: I'm interested in getting into a nursing program and eventually go on to mental health. I noticed Judy has worked specifically in that field. However, I have been discouraged by people saying that my physical well-being would be at risk because of possible violence, and also that eventually being around mental patients over time somehow rubs off on you. How did you find working in the mental health field?
Answer from Judy Britnell ... Thanks for this question. I believe that the satisfaction of working with the mentally ill far outweighs the risks. I would hope that the things that rub off from this kind of work are honesty, respect and the satisfaction from seeing someone take small steps towards health. Having a sense of humour doesn't hurt either!
Regarding your physical well-being, there is a strong emphasis today on maintaining a healthy and safe work environment for nurses; this includes protection from physical violence. While there are risks in nursing, it is important that nurses possess the knowledge and skills to minimize those risks. Although I don't work directly with clients at this time, I find that the skills and knowledge that I acquired in my mental nursing background are part of my work and personal life.
Q: I have my BA from the U of T and have recently considered going into nursing. My question is what kind of, and how much more, education would I be looking at in order to enter the nursing field?
Answer from Judy Britnell ... Both the University of Toronto and York University in Toronto have a Second Entry Nursing Program for students who have already obtained an undergraduate degree and wish to complete a BScN. The programs can be completed in two years. Contact their nursing programs to find out more.
Q: It appears to me that the colleges are universities are making it more difficult for mature students to enter nursing programs! I am a mature student with an interest in nursing, but despite the fact that I have completed college, I am told that I need to go back to high school to get credits in Grade 12 Chemistry, Grade 12 Biology and Grade 11 math. I am not sure I understand why all this can't be part of the first-year nursing program, if they are so required?
Answer from Judy Britnell ... Admission criteria to nursing programs are not flexible with respect to the requirement of completing these courses prior to entry to the first year of a nursing program. It is also required that students obtain at least a 60 per cent in these courses. The entry requirements are necessary because we want to ensure that students are successful in their first year.
Q: There is a university program in Alberta where one can study nursing online, and then arrange practical in one's hometown. Will a program like this one be recognized by the nursing association in Ontario? Will it make any difference once one has passed the Nursing Board Examinations and becomes a RN?
Answer from Sylvia Rodgers ... Let me explain what it takes to become an RN in Ontario. You must meet all the "entry to practice requirements" set by the College of Nurses of Ontario (the regulatory body for both RNs and RPNs). These include successful completion of an approved education program; fluency in English or French; and successful completion of the Canadian Registered Nurse examination, among other things.
Nurses who are educated outside of Ontario must have their education program assessed to make sure it is equivalent with an Ontario baccalaureate nursing program. I don’t know if the Alberta program you refer to meets these requirements so would suggest you contact the College of Nurses for this information.
Q: I am a male with hospital background in an allied field. I am in my early 40s and interested in studying nursing. Is it worth it for me to embark in this career at this age? What would be the reaction of my colleagues, professors and supervisors given my age and gender?
Answer from Judy Britnell ... It is very worthwhile to consider going into nursing. Individuals with life experience can make excellent contributions to the profession of nursing and would be welcomed into the profession.
As for your question about your gender, see our previous answer to a similar question.
Q: I will be starting the Registered Practical Nursing course in September. I am leaving a very secure job with the airlines of 18 years. I am very excited about this new career change, however, I am concerned with jobs available for the RPN.
Some Ontario hospitals do not utilize RPNs at all. Will this new incentive include the RPN or is it just restricted to the RN? As a future nurse, I would like to practise in a hospital, and not be solely restricted to long-term care, or doctors offices or clinics. What is the future of a Registered Practical Nurse? Thank you.
Answer from Sylvia Rodgers ... It is never too late for a career change. I looked at the work statistics for RPNs in Ontario in 2005 and found that 45.9 per cent were employed in hospitals. This is the largest reported work setting followed by long-term care and the community. These stats are found of the College of Nurses website. For more information about career opportunities for RPNs check out the Registered Practical Nurses Association website. Good luck in your studies.
Q: What career opportunities are there for men to go into nursing? Are hospitals, nurses - even patients - receptive to males in the field?
Answer from Sylvia Rodgers ... Currently about 5 per cent of all nurses are male. This number has been slowly increasing over the years.
The career opportunities for men are pretty much the same as for women, men have just been slow at catching on to the fact that this is a great profession! I can’t speak for male nurses in terms of how they have been received, but can tell you I have always enjoyed having male colleagues on my team.
Q: Where do I start if I want to pursue nursing? How much will it cost?
Answer from Judy Britnell ... Start with doing some research about nursing and nursing programs in your local area. There are a number of websites that would be useful to you e.g., the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario or the College of Nurses of Ontario to learn some general information about nursing.
You might also consder intervieiwng some nurses that you know to find out what kind of work that they have done in their careers. You could also look at the calendars of any university or college nursing programs to find out the admission requirements and costs.
Regarding costs, they do vary. Tuition costs for nursing students in a baccalaureate nursing program are close to $4,000.00 per year. This does not include the costs of living, uniforms books, transportation, etc. There are bursaries and loans available to students to provide financial support.
Q: I was a junior nursing student back in the Philippines with one year to go before graduation. I migrated here last year, and that is why my studies were cut short. Can I continue my studies here in Canada? Will my subjects taken in the Philippines be credited here?
Answer from Judy Britnell ... Contact your nursing program of choice at a university or college and ask them to do an evaluation of your previous learning. This will help you identify what's needed for you to complete your nursing education.
Q: What is the difference between the different types of nurses, RN, RPN, practitioner, and what are the differing levels of education required? What kind of marks do you need to get into these programs?
Answer from Judy Britnell ... Good questions - it is often difficult to figure out the differences.
An RN is someone who has completed a baccalaureate degree in nursing and also has passed the RN certification examination. The admission requirements vary slightly from program to program but generally six OAC credits are required with a minimum passing grade of 60 per cent. Because there are often more applications than there are places in a program, the average per cent need to be admitted to a program is often much higher. Consult specific schools for pertinent admission requirements.
An RPN is a Registered Practical Nurse who has completed a program of study at a community college. In Ontario, RPNs are community college graduates. After graduation, they write a national certification examination. Once they successfully complete this exam, they are registered as practical nurses by the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO). You will require the entrance requirements to a community college. (Contact specific school calendars for pertinent requirements).
There are differences between RNs and RPNs in scope of practice, roles and responsibilities. Generally RNs, because of the more in-depth education, are prepared to care for patients in more complex situations. In an acute-care hospital for example, there are areas like intensive care where all the nurses are RNs. In other areas like orthopedic surgery you might find a mix of RNs and RPNs. Generally the RNs are assigned to the more complex patients and the RPNs to the less complex. While both RNs and RPNs are responsible and accountable for their own practice, they work closely as a team for the best outcomes for their patients.
Nurse Practitioners are Registered Nurses (Extended Class) with advanced knowledge and decisions-making skills in assessment, diagnosis and health care management. Nurse Practitioners are able to diagnose and treat common illnesses and injuries, write prescriptions and order lab tests and x-rays.
Here are some typical admission requirements to a Nurse Practictioner program:
*Applicants must possess an Ontario baccalaureate degree in nursing or the equivalent, with a minimum overall average of 70 per cent;
* must hold a current College of Nurses of Ontario annual registration payment card;
* have the equivalent of a minimum of two years full-time nursing practice within the past five years.
Q: Are nurses worried about a flu pandemic? What would happen to them in such a case? Are they adequately protected, with special masks and gear?
Answer from Sylvia Rodgers ... We are concerned because we know that an influenza pandemic will place a significant strain on the health care system. I think it is important to understand that an influenza pandemic will be a community-acquired illness, not a hospital-acquired illness. This means that nurses will share the same risk as the general public. Anyone who interacts with others in public places such as schools, daycares, restaurants, movie theatres, places of business is vulnerable. Most often transmission of the flu virus takes place before the person shows signs of being sick.
Nurses as health care providers will be affected by the fact that at a time of increased demand for health care, the numbers of available health care workers and support staff will be reduced due to illness. Nurses who are healthy will continue to work. Additional precautions (masks, eye protection, gloves etc.) are helpful when you know you are caring for someone infected with influenza.
Nurses know that the best way to protect both themselves and their patients from any infection is by using routine practices with emphasis on good hand hygiene.
The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care has developed a pandemic plan for Ontario. RNs are sitting on committees related to pandemic planning at the top levels of provincial government. Many workplaces have developed or are in the process of developing their own plans in preparation. For more information on this topic visit the Ministry of Health website. Nurses, as the largest group of health professionals, are in a position to provide valuable input to pandemic plans and play a key role in public education.
Q: Would you consider going to the United States for a nursing job? Contract work is plentiful in Ontario nursing but finding anything but part-time is often difficult. Is it hard to find a full-time job?
Answer from Sylvia Rodgers ... I have never personally considered going to the U.S. but I do know nurses who started their careers in the States due to shortages of full-time opportunities in Ontario. The current situation is that, on average, it takes six months for a new graduate to find employment and up to two years to find full-time work. This is unacceptable. The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) is a strong advocate for full-time employment for all present nurses and newly graduated nurses who wish to work full time. RNAO has actively promoted what is called “the 70 percent solution.” The goal is to have 70 per cent of RNs working full-time. Progress has been made towards this goal. For more information on this topic, visit the RNAO website.
You may have heard that on Monday, May 8th, Health Minister George Smitherman announced that the Liberal government will guarantee full-time employment for the approximately 4,000 nurses who will graduate in 2007. At this point in time there are few details about how this will happen but it is a step in the right direction.
Q: A career in nursing interests me, but I don't particularly want to work in a hospital setting. What other career options would there be? Would I need hospital experience first before I could explore other options?
Answer from Sylvia Rodgers ... I am delighted that you are interested in a career in nursing. There are a wide variety of career opportunities available to registered nurses that go far beyond the walls of a hospital, including public health, home care, and long term care. Nurses can be found working in industry (occupational health), corrections facilities, schools and even on the streets providing health care to the homeless. Nurses often pick an area of specialty like cancer care, mental health or diabetes or they may focus on a patient group like premature babies or the elderly. There are all kinds of interesting and wonderful roles for nurses in direct practice, education, administration, research and policy development. I often say to nurses that there is no reason ever to get bored in this profession, the opportunities are endless! Hospital experience is not necessarily a prerequisite for pursuing a career in other settings.
Q: It seems to me that the recent Ontario requirements for RNs to graduate from university (with a bachelor's degree) vs. the older system of a 3-year college diploma has actully backfired and limited the opportunity for young people interested in nursing. What do you suggest for a recent high-school graduate who doesn't have the high marks required to meet the minimum requirements of Ontario universities?
Q: I would like to be a nurse but don't think I have the marks to get into university. Are there any other alternatives?
Answer from Judy Britnell ... The good news is that there are still many opportunities for a young (or not so young) person who wishes to work in the health care sector.
You may wish to explore the opportunities to become a Registered Practical Nurse through an educational program offered at a Community Colleges. Also there are programs to prepare you as a Personal Support Worker.
There were a number of reasons for making the baccalaureate degree a requirement to be a practicing registered nurse in Ontario, not the least of which is the complexity of the nursing role in health care today, but it does not preclude the opportunity for someone who has the interest and the commitment to learning to find a place and make an important contribution to health care and to the health care team.
Q: I'm curious as to how the accelerated programs in the States are received in Canada. Would it be difficult to be licensed in Canada if I got a degree and was licensed in the States?
Answer from Sylvia Rodgers ... I don’t know much about the accelerated programs in the U.S. but I do know that in order to get registered in Ontario you must meet the entry to practice requirements that are in place. Basically, your education would be assessed to ensure equivalence with nursing education here and you would be required to successfully complete the Canadian registered nurse examination. For more information about registration requirements visit the College of Nurses of Ontario website.
Q: Hi. A few years ago after my bachelor's degree, I had the opportunity to enter nursing school at U of T, but chose to attend a graduate program in bioengineering instead. Recently, I began to have thoughts about entering nursing again, and regretted my decision to enter the graduate school. I'm wondering if I enter nursing school after my PhD, how is that looked upon? Would there be any opportunities for someone with such a technical background and the nursing background or would I just have to give up doing anything technical? What type of opportunities if any are available?
Answer from Sylvia Rodgers ... Many individuals enter nursing programs having already completed degrees in other fields of study. It is also not uncommon to find mature students who have made the decision to pursue nursing after working a few, or sometimes many, years in another unrelated line of work. I have met nurses who were accountants, welders, lawyers, tradesman etc. in their first career.
Your question about opportunities to combine your technical expertise and nursing is an interesting one. I don’t know of specific jobs that are available but I do know that the use of technology in health care is on the rise so it makes sense to me that the potential to combine nursing expertise and biomedical engineering should exist. You could be a groundbreaker in this area!
About our experts ...
Sylvia Rodgers is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario's nursing program, and for years worked in burn, neurosurgery and critical care units. She taught nursing at George Brown College for nine years, and during that time earned a master's degree in education. Currently, she works with nurses and administrators at The Scarborough Hospital to shape and influence nursing practice. Prior to this, she travelled across the province in a similar role with the College of Nurses of Ontario, which gave her insight into nursing practice in all settings and locations.
Judy Britnell earned her nursing degree from the University of Toronto, and has masters’ degrees from Columbia University (in psychiatric and community mental health nursing) and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (in adult education) and is now working on her PhD. She has worked as a nurse, taught nursing and is currently director of the professional development office for faculty at Ryerson.