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End free labour from nursing students

Colton Gray’s petition seeks paid placements to help more students succeed

Sep 08, 2017, By: Colton Gray

I believe Canada needs to start paying nursing students for the work they do. It’s a question of fairness.

Students who are going into the trades are paid (sometimes $20/hour) for their apprenticeship placements while in school. In all four years of their schooling, nursing students receive no pay for the labour they provide in clinical placements.

First-year students have placements once a week for one semester; those in second year have placements in both semesters. The longer students are in school, the more time they spend on the floor rather than in the classroom. However, tuition costs remain the same, even when students are in class only two days a week and work in placements the rest of the time.

In Ontario, nursing students pay roughly $4,000 in tuition and at least $1,000 in books and equipment each semester. School costs for the year amount to about $10,000, but these do not include transportation and parking expenses for school and placements, which are sometimes more than an hour away.

We are expected to pay these costs, work almost full time with no pay, attend classes and do homework assignments and study, while having to work a real job to pay for school and all our other expenses. I was told on my first day of orientation that I would most likely have to quit working if I was going to keep up with the demands.

The challenges are the same for students right across Canada, and many are giving up because they can’t afford time away from work to focus on school and placements. Working 40 hours a week on top of school and placements is not feasible.

Some students are also parents or have other family responsibilities. Having amazing time management skills is not enough to balance it all.

Meanwhile, hospitals and other facilities don’t have enough nurses to fill shifts. Increasing the workload of nurses already in the system is the main strategy being used to help fill the holes, rather than trying to increase the number of new nurses entering the workforce. Staff are scrambling to provide proper patient care, mid-career nurses are burning out and leaving the profession, and potential new nurses become discouraged during placements by what they see and hear of these stressful working conditions. Paying the students would allow more of them to graduate, relieving the stress on practising nurses by lowering workloads and, thus, improving patient care.

The need for new nurses in the workforce and for retaining those nurses we have is higher now than ever before. I propose two options to help make this happen:

  • Lower tuition costs, to reflect the time actually spent in the classroom, so they are more feasible for the average student.
  • Pay minimum wage ($11.40/hour in Ontario, for example) during placements. This means students would earn a little over $100 for each day. The extra money may not sound like a lot, but it would help tremendously.

With the increased strain on health-care systems as the baby boomers age, bringing more nurses into the workforce is going to be a necessity. Paying nursing students during placements is a surefire way to increase the number who successfully complete their programs.

In April, I started a petition on to raise awareness about this issue and my proposal. I encourage you to read it and sign it. My plan is to deliver the petition to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott once I reach 5,000 signatures. Although payments to students would have to be worked out under the respective employment standards act in each province and territory, the options I’ve brought forward would influence Canada’s nursing numbers and have positive effects on the entire health system.

Colton Gray is a second-year bachelor of science in nursing student in the collaborative program at Georgian College and York University in Toronto.