An influx of graduate nurses has failed to solve a nursing shortage in Halifax. There are currently 65 job postings, many of which are for critical care, intensive care and emergency.

“Critical care has always been one of those areas where we’ve struggled over the last number of years … to keep staffed,” says Bruce English, director of People Services at the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

As a result, English says four ICU beds are closed and seven travelling nurses are filling in some gaps, which he says cuts down on overtime and keeps beds open.

Trish MacDonald, a senior nurse at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, says the workload is wearing out nurses, especially experienced ones.

“They’re 12-hours shifts and you’re exhausted and you’re mentally exhausted and you’re physically exhausted,” says MacDonald.

“There’s something going on in the workplace when nurses are not wanting to stay, I mean they’re applying for jobs outside of Capital Health,” says Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.

English says the health authority hired 159 new grads this year, but many of them failed a new exam that all nurses across Canada must take. The exam standardizes nurse health care across Canada and the United States.

English wouldn’t confirm exactly how many nurses failed the exam, but says it was roughly 20 per cent. Another health official estimated it could be as high as 30 per cent and MacDonald says almost half of the new nurses in her unit failed the exam.

However, the grads are working at the hospital until they write a second exam, and the failure rate seems to be an issue across Canada, not just Nova Scotia.

“What we’ve done and what I think other employers have done across the country, we’ve extended support to these folks,” says English.

Those who failed the exam are working under a temporary licence and must be with a licensed registered nurse, which MacDonald says adds stress to the experienced nurses.

“You’re carrying your assignment, you are in charge of 27 patients on the floor, then there’s five other nurses underneath you, and you’re their resource,” says MacDonald.

The new grads will get two more chances to write the new exams and English says no nurse who has written it the second time has failed.

Both English and MacDonald say the problem is not the training of the nurses, but rather the structure of the exam.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Rick Grant