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A profession at the crossroads

CNA president says it’s time to take care of the professionals who take care of Canadians

By Sylvain Brousseau
May 8, 2023
Courtesy of Sylvain Brousseau
“Together, CNA and nurses must continue to work to transform the image of the profession so that it is recognized as a unique and scientific discipline with its own expertise and skills,” Sylvain Brousseau says.

I would like to wish you a wonderful National Nursing Week!

The nursing profession of the 21st century is experiencing several challenges — a shortage of nurses, a shortage of staff in other health-care professions, an aging population, a growing number of people suffering from chronic diseases, and many other issues. All of these challenges are exerting pressure on how Canada spends its health-care dollars.

After three years of COVID-19, it’s important to remember that the nursing profession is still reeling from the impact of the pandemic. The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), like many other organizations, maintains that the long-lasting effects on the Canadian health-care system could be devastating.

This health crisis has highlighted how nursing expertise and competencies have been historically neglected and underutilized. Indeed, everything that has happened over the past few years leaves no doubt that similar situations will recur in the coming decades. The health-care system and its decision-makers therefore have no time to waste. We must work now to retain Canada’s nurses and attract new people to the profession. It is time to take care of those who take care of us. This pandemic has highlighted the fragility of Canada’s health systems and raised awareness among the public about the requirements, roles and responsibilities of the nursing profession.

CNA is a member of the Coalition for Action for Health Workers, an advocacy group that proposes solutions that will, first, address the hiring and retention crisis for nurses and, second, enhance the multiple roles of family nurses and primary health care practitioners. The coalition is also advocating for the implementation of innovative care models to ensure nursing skills and patient needs are aligned; such models will help reduce excessive workloads.

CNA is also joining other health-care organizations to urge Canadian policy-makers to invest more in the hiring of administrative and sanitation staff, as this will help enable nurses to work to their full potential.

Burnout is a significant issue in the nursing profession. To help prevent it, I believe that care settings must offer concrete solutions such as flexible hours, time off to recharge, time to integrate self-care into one's schedule, and access mental health services. Further, the nursing profession would greatly benefit from other initiatives, such as the establishment of a paid residency program for nursing students to attract them to the profession and help them transition to clinical settings. Likewise, effective mentoring of nursing students is essential to ensure the sustainability of the health-care system.

The nursing profession as a socio-political force

Canada’s 460,000 nurses are a national socio-political force with the leadership necessary to help the country overcome its many health care challenges. As a profession, we are poised to offer solutions related to nursing regulation, optimization of the nursing role, and enhanced clinical roles — all of which, incidentally, would help garner additional respect for our profession.

Every nurse must do their part to influence and shape Canada’s policies related to health care and social programs. Nurses should consider themselves active participants in helping Canada achieve its health goals, including the protection of universal health care coverage; recognition of the importance of the social determinants of health and mental health; reducing the spread of non-communicable and infectious diseases (epidemics); and addressing climate change. Nurses must use their evidence-based knowledge and act as competent and responsible leaders to influence policy and ensure it is compassionate. All nurses play a critical role in providing safe, quality care to people in Canada, including Indigenous, Black, and LGBTQ2S+ communities, as well as others who are vulnerable.

In discussing such monumental issues, it’s important to remember that CNA is the only pan-Canadian nursing organization that integrates all nurses. CNA therefore has the authority to make decisions and implement initiatives that will benefit health care and the future of the nursing profession. Indeed, it represents nurses that are unionized and non-unionized, retired nurses, nursing students, and all categories of nurses (registered nurses, nurse practitioners, licensed and registered practical nurses, and registered psychiatric nurses). We bring everyone together to discuss issues, make decisions, and propose solutions. Nurses have the expertise to help develop and implement innovative models of care as well as overhaul the governance of public health systems across the country. For example, health systems urgently need to rethink the interprofessional governance model (Farchi et al., 2023) to ensure better access to clinical teams working in primary health care and family health; if such teams were optimized in community-focused facilities, access to health care in urban, rural and remote settings could be greatly improved.

It's time to collectively reflect on the future of nursing

The future of CNA and nursing is at a crossroads. As nurses, we must continue to leverage our influence and wield our political skills to lead change. Together, CNA and nurses must continue to work to transform the image of the profession so that it is recognized as a unique and scientific discipline with its own expertise and skills.

Indeed, the health crisis has revealed that many people, including those with decision-making power, are often unaware of the value that nurses bring to the health-care system. This is why nurses must raise their profile and take their rightful place at the decision-making tables that affect the profession. As nurses, we must speak out on issues, in particular racism and violence in health-care settings. As I mentioned to Québec Science, “currently, others decide for us, when it should be the opposite. We are not being listened to and this can become costly for Canadian society.”

Political action is essential to ensure nursing is fully recognized for the role it plays in society. This is CNA’s strong suit, as it is the only national organization representing all categories of nurses working in clinical practice, training, education, research and policy development. CNA has the leadership, credibility, knowledge, expertise, resources and skills necessary to provide sustainable and innovative solutions that will optimize all forms of nursing practice and professional autonomy across the country. It is for these reasons that CNA continues to advocate on behalf of the nursing profession at the federal level to improve health care and ensure it remains accessible.

I personally ask you to work together and harder to recruit nurses to join CNA and strengthen our national voice. By being a member, all nurses can participate in the transforming and repositioning of nursing care to ensure it is able to tackle the serious health and social issues facing Canada. Nurses are ready to actively participate at the decision-making level to ensure that their skills and vision are used to improve health systems. Nursing perspective and expertise are essential to the sustainability and excellence of health care in Canada. Considering the state of the current crisis, I believe that we, as a profession, need to come together and collectively reflect on the future of nursing and propose bold solutions to the many challenges ahead.

As several nursing leaders in the country and around the world have pointed out, a collaborative, inclusive, enlightened and caring approach must guide efforts among health organizations, nursing associations, and the various levels of government to solve complex nursing problems and tackle current issues and challenges facing health care in Canada. Together, we can make a real difference and bring about the necessary transformations in health.

In conclusion, I would like to recognize the tremendous work of all the nurses in Canada who work in these difficult times. On behalf of CNA, I would like to thank you for your remarkable professional commitment and your outstanding leadership.

The International Council of Nurses Congress is fast approaching!

Don't miss this unique opportunity to participate in the ICN Congress! The event takes place in Montreal from July 1-5, 2023. We invite nurses to register now to learn from 5,000 colleagues arriving from more than 120 countries. Talk to as many as you can about nursing challenges, global health and more! Looking forward to meeting you!


Farchi, T., Dopson, S., & Ferlie, E. (2023). Do we still need professional boundaries? The multiple influences of boundaries on interprofessional collaboration. Organization Studies, 44(2), 277-298.

Sylvain Brousseau, PhD, RN, FFNMRCSI, is the president of the Canadian Nurses Association (2022-2024) and is an associate professor in nursing sciences at the Université du Québec en Outaouais at Saint-Jérôme campus.