Nova Scotia's nursing unions are pushing for changes to standardized testing for new nurses.

Last year Canada introduced a new computer adaptive testing exam that all graduates must pass after completing a nursing degree. Registered nurse Amber Shute says she failed twice.

“Everything was on the line and it was very devastating, and very scary,” said Shute.

At the moment, those who don't pass in three attempts can't be nurses, despite their degrees. Shute passed on her final attempt, but graduated nursing student Denise Ross is not out of the woods yet.

“I have one more write and if I am unsuccessful in that write I will not be able to be a registered nurse unless I went back to university and completed the same degree that I just finished,” said Ross.

In New Brunswick, nursing students are able to write the exam an unlimited number of times. That was a change brought about three months ago because students were scoring lower than anywhere else in the country.

The Nurses' Association of New Brunswick says it was not only creating a financial burden for graduates unable to work, but also generating stress on the healthcare system.

“If nothing else happens, we need to have unlimited across this country,” said Janet Hazleton of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union.

Hazleton also says the new exam isn't helping the nursing shortage.

“We need these nurses,” she said. “We need these nurses to graduate. We need these nurses to be successful, and we need them to start work very soon after they graduate.”

But the College of Registered Nurses maintains the exam is in place to ensure nurses are safe to practice. It also says the overall pass rate in 2015 was 89 per cent, which is consistent with the previous exam.

The college says no more than five students failed three times.

“We would have concerns, yes, that someone may not be necessarily safe to practice nursing if they couldn’t pass within three attempts,” said Heather Totton of the Nova Scotia College of Registered Nurses.

But Shute says the exam needs to be re-evaluated.

“I always made good grades and in university is well, and did very well in clinical, and as a nurse out in the clinical setting I feel very competent,” she said.

Ross has written a letter to the prime minister and says pass or fail, she wants the testing process changed.

“My entire adult existence rides on this exam,” she said.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kayla Hounsell.