The federal health minister is among the hundreds of nurses gathering in Saint John for the Canadian Nurses Association Biennial Conference.

“Our New Brunswick Nursing Association is celebrating 100 years of their journey together and we are here to celebrate their centennial,” said Karima Velji, president of the Canadian Nurses Association.

The event hasn't been held in the Maritimes since the early 1990s, but it’s come east for a special occasion.

“We need to go across Canada, share what we are doing well and how we can collaborate,” said Brenda Kinney, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Association.

Many of the 600 nurses in attendance are sharing challenges facing the profession.

“Overcrowding, our work load is increasing, people are living longer, they're sicker and requiring more care with fewer resources to do it. So it's a daily struggle,” said registered nurse Amy McLeod.

Velji says that struggle is magnified in rural communities.

“You will see in our conference we speak a lot about primary healthcare and the care of our indigenous communities, for example, and also other people in rural and remote communities because they have the poorest access to health and health resources,” she said.

Canada's 300,000 nurses are also dealing with new assisted-dying legislation introduced by the federal government.

“We talked about a number of other very interesting issues, not only medically-assisted dying, but I also talked about my tremendous support for palliative care and the need to expand palliative care options across the country,” said federal health minister Jane Philpott.

Philpott didn't make any promises during her visit, but nurses in attendance are glad the lines of communication are open so all sides can work toward a solution.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Jonathan MacInnis.