Texas and Alberta have a lot in common. Cattle ranches, rodeos, a booming oil and gas sector, and thousands of Canadian health-care workers.
That last item on the list might be a bit of a surprise to some. But it’s true.
Considering many Canadian provinces, Alberta included, are coping with a shortage of health-care workers, it’s a good idea to look at different ways our country can keep hospitals and clinics staffed with the doctors and nurses needed to take care of patients.
SecondStreet.org decided to examine the number of Canadian doctors and nurses with licences to work in the U.S. The research started by looking at states along the Canada/U.S. border and then expanded to popular states deeper into the U.S.: Florida, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas.
The results were wilder than a buckin’ bronco.
Texas was, by far, the most attractive of these states for Canadian health-care workers. There were 5,620 nurses and 443 doctors with a licence to work in the Lone Star State. Unfortunately, a majority of the nursing licences did not have a province specified, so it’s not clear which part of Canada they came from.
In total, the 14 states had issued licences to just over 18,000 health workers with Canadian mailing addresses. For perspective, that’s almost enough to pack the Saddledome full of health workers for a Flames game. It’s important to note that figure doesn’t include the thousands of Canadian doctors and nurses who have moved to the U.S. and no longer use Canadian mailing addresses.
While not every one of the 18,000 licensees is currently working in the U.S. (some may have retired, returned home, etc.), it’s clear that the brain drain to states such as Texas is contributing to the staff shortage in Alberta and the rest of the country.
So what can be done to convince these essential health workers to stay home?
For one, more choice. This is something the Alberta government has taken some positive steps toward. At the beginning of the year, it pledged to complete 3,000 orthopedic surgeries through publicly funded, privately run clinics. Not only does this have great promise for patients, but it’s also good for staff as well. If a nurse or doctor doesn’t enjoy working in a government-run hospital, they might be attracted to working at a private facility instead of leaving the province for work.
While it’s great to see Alberta take this step, it could go further. Why not keep the public health-care system but allow Albertans to pay for their care at local private clinics, instead of making patients leave the province if they want to pay for surgery? Quebecers have the right to pay for their care locally. If they can do it, why can’t Albertans?
It’s also important to improve the government-run system. When surveying nurses who lived in Ontario but worked in Michigan, SecondStreet.org heard many interesting reasons as to why they chose to work in the U.S. The top reason was actually the availability of work: many nurses were unable to find full-time jobs in Canada and had to deal with juggling different part-time shifts.
It looks like this could be happening in Alberta. According to the federal government, 31 per cent of Alberta nurses work part-time, substantially higher than the 19 per cent average for all other jobs. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to combine some of these positions into full-time work to potentially convince some health workers to stay home.
It’s common sense that for a health-care system to work, you need staff to keep it running. Convincing staff to stop running south of the border can play a major role.
The Calgary Stampede’s a lot better than the Houston Rodeo, anyway.
Dom Lucyk is the Communications Director with SecondStreet.org, a Canadian think-tank.