Everywhere we look, people and goods are in short supply and high demand.

The issues with supply chains may resolve themselves in time, but the deficit of healthcare professionals in the territory will require sustained effort to address.

Nurses are badly needed worldwide. Graduation rates don’t seem to be breaking even with staff turnover and retirements due to burnout, Covid-fatigue, poor working conditions and what honestly seems to be a lack of respect for these women and men who have poured countless hours and dollars into learning how to best serve us in some of our most trying times.

Worse, there doesn’t seem to be much recourse when you’re unsatisfied with your terms of employment. It becomes a no-win battle where one is pulled between unions, government departments and one’s own self-interest.

The Government of Nunavut (GN) has had its fair share of hardship in filling a significant portion of the 300 nursing positions across the territory, to the point where various community health centres have moved to temporary “emergency only” status over the past few years.

The GN released its five-year-plan for nursing recruitment and retainment in February, which rests primarily on training more made-in-Nunavut nurses and to make terms more appealing to attract nurses locally and from other jurisdictions, such as through “competitive” compensation — all those attractive bonuses that caused such a kerfuffle among longer-term health staff during the peak of Nunavut’s last Covid wave.

Eight nurses were brought into the territory via Red Cross and the federal government to help lighten the load, also in February, and locum physicians have long stemmed the gap between healthcare needs and realities.

What’s frustrating about that, though, is until we have reached some sort of critical mass of health centres, staff, and interpreters or trained service providers who are fluent in Inuktut, we will continue to rely on medevacs to Iqaluit or farther south for what should be routine care much of the time.

A study published May 3 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that Nunavut Inuit were 25 per cent more likely to experience serious complications after surgery compared to non-Inuit counterparts in similar age and health ranges.

The researchers think these poorer outcomes may be due to barriers in accessing timely and culturally appropriate healthcare, causing Nunavut Inuit to arrive at surgery with more advanced disease, which increases their risk of complications.

“We know from past research that the healthier you are when you walk into an operating room, the likelier you are to have good outcomes. Many Nunavut Inuit patients experience chronic health conditions, poor access to healthcare services and delayed surgical care,” said Dr. Jason McVicar, lead author of the study.

Currently, there are 18 students between years one and four taking part in the nursing program at Nunavut Arctic College, seven of whom are Inuit.

Between 2004 and 2021, there have been 70 nursing graduates from Nunavut Arctic College (NAC), 28 of whom are Inuit.

These numbers are encouraging — it demonstrates growth, and the programs being offered through the college are expanding also.

Cambridge Bay will offer the practical nursing diploma for the first time this year and will expand the pre-health sciences certificate to the Kitikmeot community.

Six students are enrolled in the pre-health program in Rankin Inlet also, and NAC is planning to launch the practical nursing program there in the future.

We hope that these slow-but-steady improvements will be enough to improve healthcare outcomes in the territory.

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