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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Military nursing has substantial benefits

By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun

Canadian nurses who want to travel have it made. There's the U.S., of course, and the oil-rich sheikdoms that dot the Persian Gulf.

Then there's Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cyprus, perhaps Haiti and even Iraq if the U.N. takes over from the Americans in that country and Canada sends troops there.
"Forces nursing is not for the fainthearted," says Capt. Andrea Schmaltz, a critical care nurse attached to 1 Canadian Field Hospital at CFB Pettawawa.

These hot spots aren't recruiting, but the Canadian Forces are and they need nurses there and at home on bases across the country.

Capt. Brad Dey, a recruiter at the Canadian Forces office in Mississauga, is straightforward about service requirements.

"Our sales pitch is that we're looking for any and all types of nurses," he says. "We're looking for someone who wants to do something exciting for a


The basic requirements to be a nurse in the Canadian Forces are Canadian citizenship, a nursing degree from a recognized university, and freedom from any legal obligation. There's also 13 weeks basic training to complete at St. Jean, Que., before nurses are commissioned as second lieutenants. Language training in French or English is compulsory, too.

Dey says starting salaries for forces' nurses are competitive with those in hospitals. A new nursing officer will earn at least $36,000 and after three or four years he says a nurse who had been promoted to captain would make more than $59,000 a year.

The fringe benefits are substantial, too, says Dey. From day one nurses get four weeks leave a year, 93% of their pay when they go on maternity or parental leave, and a hefty pension after 20 years service. There are also numerous schemes to help pay tuition, upgrade a college diploma to a university degree and to take specialized training.

Anne Simmonds, curriculum co-ordinator at Seneca College in Toronto, says becoming a nurse with just a diploma is no longer an option. By 2005 all nurses must have a BScN or they won't be eligible for registration. Her college works with Toronto's York University, so students spend two years at Seneca and two years at York.

Seneca gets 280 nursing students a year, says Simmonds, and it's heavy sledding for them. She says the national drop out rate is 20% to 40%, with large numbers of departures in the first year.

"The students think they'll be doing nurse-like things but not writing academic papers," Simmonds says. "It is tough and we're looking at some workload issues."

"Tough" and "workload" aren't words that would be lost on Capt. Andrea Schmaltz, a critical care nurse attached to 1 Canadian Field Hospital at CFB Pettawawa.

Schmaltz has just returned to Pettawawa after six months at Camp Julien in Kabul, Afghanistan. There she nursed the survivors of attacks on Canadian troops, provided care while bouncing around in full military gear in the backs of ambulances, and battled sandstorms and unsanitary conditions at every turn.

Despite the rigours of her tour, Schmaltz expects to remain in the army, where she's spent seven years after nursing for six years at Pembroke General Hospital, about 20 kms from Pettawawa.

Schmaltz chose the army because she wanted security, to maintain her ties with Canada, and because it seemed right and patriotic.

"I'm very proud to do what I do and I think my family's proud of me," Schmaltz says. "(Forces nursing) is not for the fainthearted. You have to be prepared to assume a greater leadership role than you would be in civilian street."

And, she concludes with a laugh, it really helps to have a sense of humour.

(Reach freelancer David Chilton at

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