04/07/2013 01:05 EDT | Updated 06/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Group suggests changes to Quebec nurses' education credentials

A group representing more than 62,000 health professionals in Quebec said it is concerned about the proposed changes to nurses' mandatory entry-level qualifications.

A committee put in place by the Quebec government and headed by the Quebec Order of Nurses (OIIQ) said it wants to require nurses to have a university undergraduate degree by 2014, but it will allow a five year grace period.

The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) said the province is not ready to implement mandatory undergraduate education for nurses.

Roberto Bomba, a spokesman for the FIQ, said making next year the deadline for the new mandatory credentials could weaken the health care system and overcrowd universities.

"We question 'Why the urgency in this change?' when there's already a shortage of nurses in the province of Quebec and [...] there's other things that need to be taken into consideration that aren't currently being looked at," he said.

The group said it wants to wait at least three years before making the new education requirements mandatory.

The FIQ said about 30 per cent of nurses in the province have an undergraduate degree, while about 70 per cent have a college degree.

In a news release issued Sunday afternoon, the OIIQ said a majority of professionals in the health care system in Quebec believe educational standards for nurses should be increased.

"The [OIIC] surveyed 2,500 of its members in the winter of 2011. Results suggest that 74 per cent of respondants representing Quebec nurses believe qualifications must be improved," reads the statement.

While college-trained nurses learn the basics of patient care, university-level trainees are taught primary and critical care. Lucie Tremblay, the OIIQ's executive director said the committee's suggestions were made as a way to elevate the level of care in the province.

"I think that the population needs are changing and they're increasing at a very fast pace. So therefore, if we want to plan for the future, it's very important at this point that nurses come to the working force being better prepared," she said. "We want to do a lot of primary care to create better access to care and this kind of training is given at the university level."

OIIQ suggests Quebec is behind on improved training

According to a public document published by the OIIQ, other provinces are already ahead of the game when it comes to increasing nurses' required credentials.

Ontario increased its job-entry requirements in 2005. According to the OIIC, 45 per cent of the province's nurses hold bachelor's degrees compared to 35 per cent in Quebec.

The United Kingdom, Norway, Australia and all the provinces except Quebec already require nurses to have undergraduate degrees to practice.

In those provinces, students enrolled in college nursing degrees can work as licensed practical nurses (LPN) upon graduation. An upgrade to a university degree is required in order to pass the Canadian Registered Nursing Exam (CRNE) to become become registered nurses (RN).

The Quebec government has set up a task force looking into the requirements. It hopes to have a report ready by June.

The OIIC's recommendations [French only]