Karen Tan’s life looks a lot different today than a few years ago. Having worked at BC Children’s Hospital for 12 years, the registered nurse now manages and treats clients at SOMA MD, a medical spa in Surrey.
“I just felt over the years, just an increased amount of burnout, just feeling really tired physically, emotionally. Shift work was really hard,” she told CTV News.
It was a natural transition for Tan as she’s still able to apply her skills and experience as an RN.
“I do injections with Botox and fillers now. We do hair restoration therapy, so I draw clients’ blood. I inject their blood,” she explained.
“And I also do IV vitamin drips. A lot of the same clinical kind of skills that I did in the hospital, just for very different reasons,” she continued.
For Tan, it became clear that she wanted more routine and a job that offered a better work-life balance, so she decided to leave her job at the hospital just before the pandemic.
“Just having that regular sleep-wake schedule was so important for me. And having a young family, taking care of my daughter,” she said, adding that it was a challenge before with shift work.
She said her current role isn’t necessarily easier, but one that she’s more passionate about, noting that she took a pay cut to work in the aesthetic industry.
Tan is also one of a growing number of nurses in the province who are leaving the profession, in favour of spas, cosmetic clinics and other private medical practices.
The vacancy rate for B.C nurses is currently 28,335 — a significant jump from five years ago when the rate was 8,870.
“We need to make working conditions better for our nurses, for all health-care workers,” said Aman Grewal, the president of the BC Nurses’ Union.
She said many nurses report unsafe working conditions both psychologically and physically, which makes it hard to achieve a work-life balance.
“Nurses get hit, spat on, they get cussed out all the time. People get stalked. They have their vehicles damaged,” Grewal said.
The union is working to negotiate better working conditions to ease the workload, including an appropriate nurse-to-patient ratio and more health supports.
“(Nurses should) be able to attend a child’s soccer game, be able to swap shifts or have their leaves approved. Many are not getting their vacation leaves approved,” Grewal said.
She said more needs to be done soon to address the alarming rate in which nurses are leaving the profession.
In an emailed statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Health said it’s working to address the underlying nursing workforce challenges, including a new program that makes it easier for eligible internationally educated nurses to enter the province’s health system.
The ministry also said the demand for nurses is high globally.
“While overall the health system continues to attract a rising number of nurses and maintains significant net increases, nursing vacancies continue to rise as well,” the statement read.
“This is a multi-factored issue and is in line with trends worldwide as countries grapple with rising complexity of care, an aging population and workforce, new modalities of care and work-life balance, and increasing competition from international jurisdictions and the private sector, among other issues.”