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From nursing to politics: how my front-line experiences inform my decision-making

National Nursing Week 2023, reflections from federal Seniors Minister Kamal Khera

By Kamal Khera
May 9, 2023
Courtsey of The Hon. Kamal Khera, Minister of Seniors
“Even though nursing and politics may seem like completely different worlds, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to ensure that Canadians are taken care of,” Kamal Khera says.

This year for National Nursing Week, I want to recognize and celebrate the dedication and determination of nurses, nurse educators and nursing students who continually go above and beyond to provide care for Canadians. From family doctors offices, to emergency rooms to end of life care, and everywhere in between, nurses are essential to the delivery of health-care services across the country.

Courtsey of The Hon. Kamal Khera, Minister of Seniors
Kamal Khera, right, administers COVID-19 vaccines to fellow health-care workers.

As a registered nurse myself, I understand all too well the crucial role that nurses play in our health-care system. This year's theme is Our Nurses. Our Future. It represents an opportunity to further highlight the critical role that nurses play in patients’ health-care journeys.

When you’re providing care to a patient you’re not just performing medical tasks; you are connecting with people, and making a difference in their lives. The relationships that are built between nurses and their patients are unique and invaluable. I learned this first-hand during my time working in the oncology and palliative care units at St. Joseph’s in Toronto.

Even though nursing and politics may seem like completely different worlds, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to ensure that Canadians are taken care of. Throughout my almost eight years as a member of Parliament I have frequently drawn upon the lessons I learned from my time as a nurse to help guide me in decision-making to deliver the best outcomes for Canadians.

This has been especially true since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, I had the opportunity to put my scrubs back on and volunteered alongside members of the Canadian Armed Forces in one of the hardest-hit long-term care homes in the country, in my own community of Brampton. During this time I saw first hand the deplorable conditions that staff and residents had to endure, and I carry those experiences with me every single day.

I know all of you have worked tirelessly day in and day out over the past three years, and I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to all of you: your selfless service, unwavering commitment, and compassionate care have been nothing short of extraordinary. Through it all, you have been there to support Canadians, and now it’s our turn to support you.

That is why just last year, we reinstated the position of a federal chief nursing officer (CNO) with the appointment of Leigh Chapman. We did this to ensure that nurses’ voices are heard when decisions affecting our health-care system are made.

In Budget 2023 our federal government is also making historic investments in health care, close to $200 billion, to repair our publicly-funded health-care system, and prepare it for generations to come.

However, providing increased financial support is only one component of the solution. Canadians want to see outcomes, and nurses want improved working conditions. This plan includes mechanisms to ensure accountability while also prioritising the human health resources crisis and the recruitment and retention of health-care workers.

We also know that Canadians living in rural and remote communities often don't have the same access to health-care services as those living in cities. But we're working to change that by expanding the Canada Student Loan Forgiveness program for doctors and nurses. Our goal is to make sure that all Canadians, no matter where they live, have access to high-quality and safe care.

And Canada needs more people. We need to find ways to fill our labour shortage and make sure we can take care of our families. That's why through the Foreign Credential Recognition Program, we're making it easier for skilled newcomers to come to Canada and work in their field of study. And this plan is having an impact already. In fact, a quarter of our newcomers are health-care workers, including nurses and nurse aides. They're stepping up to fill the labour shortage and make our health-care system even better, especially for our seniors who are among the fastest growing groups in Canada.

Finally, we need to think about future generations of nurses. Our government is investing $2.4 million through the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing (CASN) to fund an initiative supporting a new nurse residency program, and better support new graduate nurses in their transition from school to practice. We're also creating a Centre of Excellence for the Future of the Health Workforce to improve the information and data we have about the health workforce, so we can better plan for the future.

On behalf of the entire government of Canada, I say thank you to the over 400,000 nurses across the country, who dedicate themselves to caring for others and protecting the health of our communities every day. Please know that I will continue to do my absolute best in advocating for and representing your interests, because at the end of the day, our nurses are our future.

The Honourable Kamal Khera was first elected as the member of Parliament for Brampton West in 2015. Minister Khera is one of the youngest women ever elected to Parliament. A registered nurse, community volunteer, and political activist, she is passionate about improving the lives of those around her.