Nursing as a Career in Canada (Calgary, AB)

  1. Hi all!
    I'm new to the site and have so many questions!
    I am fairly certain that I have decided on nursing as a career, and will be applying to U of C shortly, to attend this coming September. I've spent the last few days reading the forums and some of it seems a little disheartening, I guess.
    My ideal job is in the L&D ward, or post-natal care if it comes to that. Honestly, I just don't see myself doing anything else long-term. Are things really as bad as I've been reading? Is it a pipe dream to think that I will be able to get into my chosen area relatively quickly (even out of school?!)? Will I be forced to work nightmare 12 hr night shifts 6 days a week and be cr@pped on by my superiors, all the while making less than stellar wages?
    I guess I'm just wondering what the reality of it all is. I don't personally know any nurses so have no one I can ask about these things before I make the jump. I quite honestly don't know the first thing about the logistics of the career and just want to know the basics I suppose.
    I'm a 27 yrs old married mother of two and I want and need a stable career that will still allow me time with my family, and a decent salary. How easy will it be for me to find this? I'd rather find out the reality sooner than later!
    Any insight or advice anyone can offer is very much appreciated
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  2. 37 Comments

  3. by   NotReady4PrimeTime
    I'm not going to sugar-coat things for you. Nursing can be a truly rewarding and satisfying career. But it can also be frustrating, difficult and bordering on abusive. Uncaring managers with a focus on the bottom line, short-staffing and overtime, equipment and supply shortages, no flexibility, they all can take their toll. With the current nursing shortage in our boomtowns of Calgary, Edmonton and Fort Mac, Alberta is surprisingly not all that nice to its nurses... We're really hoping to change that when our contract proposals are exchanged with the province on January 23. I can't go into detail here, because at the moment it is all still confidential, but I can tell you this. What we're taking to them will leave them with no doubt about how serious we are about improving our working conditions. Our new premier may be a good thing for nursing in Alberta, but that remains to be seen.

    Now to your specific dreams... Most of the postings I've seen for labour and delivery are looking for one or two years previous experience. BUT... and it's a big but... when they don't get applicants with those years of experience, they will often take on a new grad and give them a shot at it. The posting I looked at from the Foothills says, " Intensive Training and Orientation provided for those individuals that have no previous Labour and Delivery experience". None of the postings I've looked at for Capital Health say that!! I'd suggest making obstetrics your senior practicum, the full-time work experience portion of your fourth year in nursing school where you take all the things you've learned and apply them to real people. That will make you more attractive to the person doing the hiring, because they'll already know you and know how you've been managing in the job. I'd also recommend that you take the Neonatal Resuscitation Program as soon as you possibly can after graduation. Another thing about employment for grad nurses is that Albertahas a program that allows graduate nurses to take a position in an area like L&D right out of school, work as a supernumary person (meaning you don't have your own patient assignment and aren't counted in the staffing numbers) for up to a year and be paid the going rate for a first-year registered nurse, which is currently $27.93 an hour, plus shift differentials. At the end of the period worked, the nurse is well-trained, confident and has some experience to lean on. This program has great potential but not to many hospitals have jumped on the bandwagon. The money comes directly from the province and not out of their operating budgets so I don't get the problem here!

    Yeah, you will have to work 12 hour shifts if you go to L&D because it's considered a critical care area, (payroll codes them as 11.08 hours worked because you don't get paid for your meal breaks) but there are very strict rules about scheduling such as how many shifts you can work in a row, how many nights you have to work, how many weekends you have to work and how many hours you have to have off between shifts. There are things in the proposal I mentioned that may further tighten these rules up, specifically for nurses who work "extended work day" hours, 12 hour shifts. You'll have to work some weekends and some holidays, and that just comes with the 24/7/52 territory.

    A full time first year registered nurse will make about $60,000 a year in that first year, including hourly salary and shift differentials. (I work a point 7 and I made a little more than $56,000 last year at the top of the scale for only four months.) Our benefits aren't stellar, but they're definitely better than nothing. I highly recommend getting the vision, dental and extended health care coverage as soon as you're hired even if your spouse has a package, because it's not that huge an amount of money and it's harder than h-e-double hockey sticks to join later if your situation changes. I'd also recommend taking advantage of the employee RRSP that lets you deposit up to 2% of your gross pay each pay period into an RRSP and the employer matches it. Free money!!

    I know a lot of women who match your demographic who make very successful careers in nursing. It's important to plan the details of your child care carefully so that you can sleep during the day when you have to work nights and to have a fall-back for when they're sick. The benefits of our career for family life are things like having time off during the week to do the shopping and cleaning so that when the kids are home, you can spend that time with them; being home some days when they get home from school; ease of scheduling doctors', dentists' and othodontists' appointments and parent-teacher interviews; driving to work against traffic... everyone has something they like about the 12 hours shift pattern. The drawbacks are things like having to miss the Christmas concert/big/hockey game/school play/family gathering because you have to work; people forgetting that you work nights and ringing your doorbell when you're sleeping; not being able to take vacation time in the summer until you've bene there a hundred years; being up half the night with a sick kid and having to haul your butt in to work for 7 am... everyone has something they hate about it.

    I hope I haven't scared you off, but you honestly sounded like you wanted the real nitty-gritty. I love being a nurse, and I love the work I do, I just don't love working for Capital Health!
  4. by   jrsmrs
    Thank you so much, that was extremely helpful! I definitely do want to know the 'knitty gritty'. I don't plan on going into this only to be blind-sided in the end! I'd like to know that the education I'm paying for is getting me a job that I can live with!
    A few quick questions....
    What are the typical schedules like as of now (without the new proposals or what have you in place)? As in, how many days per month of 12 hrs shifts would it be? 50/50 days/nights or......? How many days off/month approx? Are these schedules flexible at all if someone wanted to work more shifts per month or less shifts per month, or does someone basically just divvy up the shifts equally and you get what you get unless an extra one comes up? I mean, if I were to request certain days off one month, would I be likely to get them or do I have no say at all? Are you forced to work your XX number of hours per month or could you be more part time if you wanted? Is current vacation the standard 2 wks/yr?

    Thanks so much for your help. I really feel lost and want to be as knowledgeable as I can be without the luxury of a friend in the business!
    Last edit by jrsmrs on Jan 9, '07
  5. by   NotReady4PrimeTime
    The posting from Foothills that I looked at was for a full time position, and it said the rotation was 40 shifts in 12 weeks, which is standard for full time 12 hour shift positions. As per the contract, for 12 hour shift units, the ratio is supposed to be 50:50 days to nights. There are a lot of different rotations out there and the contract has specific rules for them, like no more than 4 shifts in a row and no more than five shifts in seven days. Most rotations have a section that is a bit busy and then another stretch of days off. One four-week full time rotation that I've worked looks like this:

    S M T W T F S
    / / / / N N N
    N / / / D D /
    / D D D / / D
    D N N N / / /

    For it to work properly, one shift would be an 8 hour one, or else every 12 weeks one shift would be dropped. I work a point 7 (at the University - PICU) as I said before, and I have a sweet rotation! We work 12 hours shifts, but our shifts are paid out at 11.625 hours because we are on the clock from 0700 to 1915 and only have one unpaid meal break. My schedule looks like this over 6 weeks:

    S M T W T F S
    / N / / / / D
    N / / / D N /
    / / D N / / /
    / / / D N / /
    / D / / / D N
    / / / D N / /

    My rotation was developed for me because of my home situation (I have a handicapped adult son). I've been working it for more than a year and just love it. The flipping back and forth isn't as hard as you'd think and I get a lot of rest.

    If you don't want full time work, there are part time positions available, but they usually go to someone with seniority before they'd go to a new grad. There's a clause in the contract that covers increasing or decreasing your FTE (full time equivalent, or "point"... my point 7 = 70 % of full time). If you have a regular day that you need off, let's say Tuesday for a class, you can have that built into your schedule. The contract stipulates that the schedule has to be posted 12 weeks in advance of the first shift on it, which can make it hard to plan your life if you want to ask for a specific day off, but trading shifts isn't that hard. Sometimes it's possible to work more nights or more days than the master rotation, and some positions are permanent days or nights. Overtime is usually readily available and for part timers, they can pick up extra shifts to whatever FTE they want. And if you get called in on your designated day of rest (part timers get 2 a week) they have to pay you overtime, which is double the basic rate.

    Vacation entitlement is based on date of hire. In the first year, you don't get any because the hours you earn this year are for next year. Technically. You can borrow against next year's entitlement, but then it's gone. So in your first vacation year, it's 15 working days or 116.25 hours. Years 2 to 9 it goes up to 20 working days or 155 hours, years 10 through 19 it's 25 working days or 193.75 hours and so on. And of course it's prorated for part timers. Full timers also get 12 "stats" per year, days off in lieu of named holidays.

    How do I know all this? I'm the union rep for my unit and I make it my business to make sure everyone is treated fairly. I love it when I can tell someone they've been had and how to make it right, but just as often I have to tell them they've been in violation (like the gal who came in for overtime when she was on vacation, a HUGE no-no), or "yes indeed management CAN do that!" I keep a copy of the collective agreement in my tote and another on my desk at home so that I can refer to it often. My mother is so disappointed in me, you have no idea! She's very anti-union and it sticks in her craw that I'm so into it. Oh well, she's the one who raised me.

    So any time you think of something else I can clear up for you, don't hesitate. If you want to take it off the board, send me a PM...
  6. by   jrsmrs
    Oh my gosh, thank you so much for taking the time to type that all out for me! You are a god-send- so helpful! You really answered all my questions. I feel a lot better about things, I think!
    Thanks again
  7. by   NotReady4PrimeTime
    You're most welcome. (If you've read any of my other posts you might have noticed that I tend to run on. And on.) I'm glad you could use the information to help you make your choice. Take good care, and remember, if I can answer anything else for you, bring it on.
  8. by   Fiona59
    Jan, you don't runon, you tell the truth.

    Too bad more of our co-workers can't.
  9. by   NotReady4PrimeTime
    Quote from Fiona59
    Jan, you don't runon, you tell the truth.

    Too bad more of our co-workers can't.
    Thanks Fiona!! I'm feeling very undervalued today and that just fixed me right up!
  10. by   northparkgrad.
    Hi, it sounded like you are totally involved and really know what are the current issues of nursing there in Canada. Can you help me out by being my Global partner for school. . .few emails, and chat. You can tell me current nursing issues in Canada, and I will share with you what is nursing here in Chicago like. Hope you will accept my invitation. Thanks.
  11. by   NotReady4PrimeTime
    Sure, bring it on. PM me and we'll chat.
  12. by   northparkgrad.
    Thank you for responding. I am just thrilled about this. May I call you Jan? Let me start by giving you my background. I am 38 years old and is currently working as a Clinician III nurse in the surgical/trauma icu in a Level 1 trauma hospital here in Chicago. I have been a nurse for 18years and have been in critical care for 15 years. I went back to school in the fall of 2005, and enjoyed taking one course per semester( why 1 course per semester? FT job, with 2kids and a husband, then school- thats enough ). I love the school experience of networking with other nurses from different backgrounds, and just hearing their experiences, and ofcourse. . . .school topics that make you think and realize whats going on in nursing outside of your own practice .
    So, how about you Jan? I see that your background is NICU and PICU. What is your educational background in relation to your area of practice? Are there any required certifications? I read that you mentioned something about issues on nursing shortage, what is the nurse -pt. ratio? Nursing shortage is also a problem here. Sometimes, my manager or asst. manager will work as a staff because we are short of staff(instead of using agency nurses).
    If posting and replying is a problem, will it be easier if i give me your email add. and i will give you mine.
    Thank you so much for replying.
    Last edit by NotReady4PrimeTime on Jan 21, '07 : Reason: removed personal email address
  13. by   NotReady4PrimeTime
    I just pulled your personal email address out of your post. It's not a good idea to post it in such a public forum. Never know what kinds of creeps might be out there pretending to be interested nurses. I'll PM you in a few minutes...
  14. by   kkettle70
    Hi Janfrn,

    Your posts have been so informative. My husband recently accepted a new job in Calgary that is suppose to start in August. I will be graduating from nursing school with a BSN this upcoming May and I am in the process of putting together a resume to submit to CRHA within the next few weeks. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me. They are as follows:

    - Are you aware of how many days/evenings/and weekends are worked in the day/evening/weekend schedule?

    - I am currently doing my senior nursing practicum in the recovery room. Do you know if the OR's in Calgary run 24 hours a day? Any information on the recovery room would be greatly appreciated.

    - Also, I am wondering if you have any information regarding public health nursing positions in Calgary (ex.availability, schedule)?

    Sorry for the detailed question list. I am right in the middle of filling out the new grad application and have a lot of questions right now.

    Thank-you so much for your help :wink2:

    Krista

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