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February 2, 2022

Governments need to act now: nurses are hanging on by a thread

Health Human Resources
Media Release
Nursing Shortage

February 2, 2022 (OTTAWA, ON) – It’s no wonder many of Canada’s nurses want to call it quits. For months, nurses have been sounding the alarm on the impact insufficient staffing has on patient care and their capacity to do their jobs well.

Nurses are crying out for support. Alarmingly, 94% of nurses are experiencing symptoms of burnout, as reported in a recent Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions survey. In a concerning trend, 45% of respondents screened positive for severe burnout, a 50% increase since 2019.

The Canada-wide survey of 4,467 nurses was conducted by Viewpoints Research from November 22 to December 20, 2021, before the exponential growth of Omicron, which made nurses’ working conditions all the more grueling. Unsurprisingly, two in three nurses said their mental health is worse now than it was a year ago, and they are feeling the impacts of long-term pandemic stress.

Between years of persistent underfunding leading to inadequate staffing and the rising pressure of COVID-19, nurses are shouldering the weight of a health care system nearing its breaking point. Overtime has become the standard band-aid solution to understaffing, and both nurses and patients alike are feeling the impact.

While working too much is one factor, burnout is a psychological response that stems from emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment, and a sense of ineffectiveness. More than 80% of the nurses who responded report insufficient staffing. As nurses fight an uphill battle for sufficient staffing to appropriately care for patients, it should come as no surprise that over 60% said quality of care has declined over the past year.

“Nurses care deeply about their patients,” explained Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions. “When patients aren’t getting the care they deserve because the system is so short-staffed, it weighs heavily on nurses and adds to their stress.”

“Nurses are incredibly hard workers, but their hard work cannot be a substitute for adequate investments into Canada’s health care system.”

Burnout, capacity issues and insufficient staffing are the main reasons pushing nurses to leave. Over 50% of nurses surveyed are considering leaving their jobs over the next year, including 20% who are considering leaving the profession altogether. Most concerning for our health care system’s sustainability over the next year, intention to leave is highest among early-career and mid-career nurses.

Critical investments focused on health care workers are desperately needed to turn the tide. Governments must work together to immediately address this human resource crisis with innovative strategies to retain and recruit nurses and to invest in long-term health workforce planning.

“Our nurses are burnt out. They’re running on fumes,” said Silas. “By not investing in supporting our nurses, we are pushing them out of the profession. The federal government cannot afford to sit idle.”

“To avert an even worse crisis, we must act now.”


More comprehensive details on the survey results can be found here.

The CFNU is Canada’s largest nurses’ organization, representing about 200,000 nurses and student nurses, and advocating on key health priorities and federal engagement in public health care.

For more information, please contact:
Ben René,, 613-406-5962