NWT now has hard data on the scale of its nursing morale crisis

The emergency entrance at the Fort Smith Health Centre in June 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The emergency entrance at the Fort Smith Health Centre in June 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

More than three-quarters of the NWT’s nurses have considered quitting in the past two years, new data suggests, as they face burnout and a lack of resources to do their jobs.

The territorial government on Wednesday released a report summarizing feedback received from 519 NWT nurses who completed an online survey in November last year.

Only 45 percent of nurses responding felt they had the resources to do their jobs, while just 55 percent were either satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their current working conditions – a significant drop from 74 percent the last time such a survey was carried out, in 2005.

By comparison, the overall GNWT job satisfaction rate reported in a similar survey in 2016 was 75 percent.



Around half of nurses responding said staffing levels aren’t adequate to meet the needs of patients. Almost 94 percent reported experiencing burnout in the past year, while 48 percent haven’t had a performance review in their current position.

The GNWT said the data provided “a better understanding of nurses’ wants and needs.”

Ministers will hold a briefing on Thursday to discuss “new initiatives to address recruitment and retention challenges within the health and social services system.” No detail is yet available.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of the Northwest Territories, which developed the survey with NWT government funding, could not be immediately reached for comment.



Results of the survey more than bear out what nurses have reported anecdotally since the pandemic began: staffing shortages and, in some places, a toxic workplace are having a damaging impact on nurses’ morale, mental health and capacity to do their work.

The phrase “toxic work environment” is listed in the survey results as a key reason why many nurses have considered quitting, and a leading contributor to burnout. Every nurse in a leadership position completing the survey reported burnout.

Seventy-one percent of nurses responding said they had experienced workplace violence.

“It is an unsafe work environment. Locums do not want to come back due to poor working conditions. We have unsafe patient-to-nurse ratios,” reads a quote from a nurse published in the report.

The report stated 68 percent of nurses were “not satisfied with the handling of workplace violence,” citing the view of some nurses that their concerns were not taken seriously and no action was taken. “Some nurses have left their position to remove themselves from the situation,” the report stated.

In all, 79 percent said they had considered leaving their job in the past two years, though not all had necessarily contemplated leaving the field or the NWT entirely.

“Nurses spoke about being exhausted and fearful of making mistakes or compromising patient care as well as the lack of work-life balance that results from a lot of overtime,” reads a summary of the findings.

The report states nurses had recommended more professional development, more scheduling flexibility and an annual cash incentive as means of encouraging staff to stay in their roles.



Professional development was highly valued by almost every nurse to complete the survey, but some said even though education opportunities exist among their benefits, the reality is they barely have any time away from the front line to exercise that option.

While a cash incentive was suggested, basic salary satisfaction – at around 70 percent – was effectively unchanged since 2005. (The 2005 survey only included registered nurses and nurse practitioners, while the 2021 survey also included licensed practical nurses and registered psychiatric nurses.)

More: Read the 2021 survey results in full | Read 2005’s results

Other concerns included inadequate orientations, the stress of being asked to work too much overtime, and an inability to take vacation time on the days requested.

Of the 519 respondents, 89 percent were women and most were aged 31 to 60. More than half work in Yellowknife or at Stanton Territorial Hospital, but there was significant representation from the Beaufort Delta (92 nurses), Sahtu (33), Hay River (30), Dehcho (20) and Fort Smith (17). Thirteen nurses in the Tłı̨chǫ took part in the 124-question survey.