The start of the oil boom increased urbanization and triggered an emphasis on education and achievement in Alberta. Women’s roles were changing and the opportunities for study and employment opened up. Membership in the AARN continued to increase and by 1965, there were 9,000 members. In 1960, the Department of Health conducted surveys to study the education requirements and personnel needed to operate current health-care services and what would be needed to expand services. The following year, recommendations from the nursing survey team were referred to the Minister of Health. Recommendations focused on training, increasing the supply of nurses, encouraging men to enter the profession, establishing a College of Nursing, developing new approaches to staffing, and training for orderlies.
Prior to the 1960s, salaries and personnel policies for nurses employed in Alberta hospitals were based on non-binding recommendations to hospitals developed by AARN. While salaries varied, AARN recommended the beginning salary for a registered nurse employed full-time be increased from $275 to $385 per month. At the annual general meeting of 1959, members passed a resolution to lobby for changes to nursing regulation to allow for collective bargaining. By 1964, AARN had established guidelines for setting up staff nurse associations and appointed an employment-relations consultant. AARN succeeded in having the Registered Nurses Act amended in 1966, and AARN took on the short-lived role of bargaining agent on behalf of the Staff Nurse Associations.
The employment relations officer was essentially a bargainer ... the person who spoke for the nurses who were being represented by the AARN, who sat at the bargaining table and dealt with individual employers like the health units or the hospitals in group bargaining like the hospital association.”
In 1973, a Supreme Court of Canada ruling decided that the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association could no longer assist or support associations that wanted to become collective bargaining agents. This set a precedent that required all professional nursing associations across Canada to restructure, establishing collective bargaining as a separate entity. After a decade of bargaining on behalf of the staff nurses association units, a bylaw proposed the collective bargaining program be independent of the AARN. In April 1977, the union for registered nurses, the United Nurses of Alberta was established with start-up funds of $15,000 from the AARN.
The “Nursing Education Survey Report” published in 1963 recommended an examination of nursing education standards. Students enrolled in three-year hospital-based programs were being used as inexpensive labour. Decisions around education and clinical placements were often made based on the operational needs of the hospital rather than the educational needs of the students. Classes were scheduled around work hours and students often had to attend class after a 12-hour shift. The programs also had strict rules about student conduct and dress. Over time, the work hours were shortened and the rules were gradually relaxed. In the interest of improving the education and experience of students, the report recommended discontinuing hospital-based programs and exploring options for a four-year baccalaureate program and a junior college program. By the fall of 1966, 29 students enrolled in the new four-year degree program at the University of Alberta. By 1967, Mount Royal College was offering a two-year diploma and many other colleges began to offer similar programs in the following years.
The curricula of nursing were based upon the medical model: signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment and until the late 1960s, doctors gave many of the lectures.”
The University of Alberta introduced the first master of nursing program in the province under the direction of registered nurse Dr. Shirley Stinson. The first students were admitted in 1975. This program advanced the importance of research in nursing and in 1986, the university approved an education program leading to a PhD in nursing. Graduate nursing students rallied together to secure funding and collaborated with stakeholders to engage nurses, citizens and other health professionals in political action necessary to bring the program to fruition. In 1991, the government approved funding for the doctoral program and it became the first of its kind in Canada.
There was another shift in patient populations during this time as health-care facilities adapted to serve Alberta’s aging population. Medical advances allowed for new treatment options that resulted in patients with increasingly severe illnesses and complex treatment plans. In order to accommodate this growth in knowledge nurses began to specialize in more distinct areas of care.
Events in this era contributed to the changes made to nursing regulations that would shape contemporary nursing: clarifying the role of the association and later of the regulatory college, emphasizing the value of a university education as a prerequisite, and solidifying the value of nurse registration. During this period, the AARN once again tackled the process of developing and negotiating new nursing legislation. Another significant milestone was achieved to protect the public from unqualified practitioners when nurse registration became mandatory with the passing of the Nursing Profession Act on Jan. 1, 1984.