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Redeploying Alberta nurses to ICUs not as simple as it seems

Last Updated Oct 5, 2021 at 2:18 pm MST


Alberta nurse says there’s a steep learning curve for those who have been moved into the province’s overwhelmed ICUs

Language, practice, medication are among the things that can different between hospital departments

United Nurses of Alberta says any help is good help at this time

CALGARY – As more nurses are pulled into Alberta’s ICUs, health care workers say the process of reallocating resources is not as simple as it may seem.

“Asking a nurse that maybe works in obstetrics to all of a sudden go to an ICU setting without having any specific training in ICU is kind of like asking a neurosurgeon to perform a kidney transplant operation,” says Cameron Westhead, the second vice president of United Nurses of Alberta.

Registered nurse Reanne Booker says there’s a perception that a nurse is a nurse. However, she points out there’s a steep learning curve for those who have been moved into the province’s overwhelmed ICUs.

“When it comes to critical care nursing, these are highly specialized expert nurses,” she said of ICU nurses. “They have a lot of extra training above and beyond what a nurse would get in an undergrad or diploma program.”

Differences in language, practice

Booker, a palliative and oncology nurse, has spent the last few weeks in a Calgary ICU. She says the foundational skills are the same, but the language, practice, and medication are very different than those in her areas of expertise.

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m creating more work for them,” she said, referring to the experienced ICU nurses.

Other health care professionals have also broken things down to show what kind of an impact redeploying workers can have. Matthew Douma, who is also a registered nurse, says shifting 20 or 40 nurses to critical care isn’t as simple as it may seem, adding an ICU nurse has to teach and supervise those who are redeployed, all while providing care themselves.


Meanwhile, Booker worries that training their peers will add stress on already overburdened critical care nurses. She says despite the challenges, experienced critical care staff have been patient with her, while prioritizing patient care.

“Any help is good help when it comes to making sure patients have the best care possible,” said Westhead.

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Booker is urging Albertans to get vaccinated to help alleviate the stress on the health care system.

Though the situation in Alberta continues to be dire, the province reported on Monday a slight drop in the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients in hospital.

According to Alberta Health Services, there are nearly 300 patients in intensive care wards, most of them with the infection.