When Misty Patterson decided to enroll in nursing, she was told she'd be guaranteed a job upon graduating.
So much so, the licensed practical nurse opted for the express program and finished school in just 17 months.
Now, Patterson -- along with 60 of her classmates from Bow Valley's LPN program, as well as graduates from the University of Calgary and Mount Royal -- is struggling to find a job.
Starting June 1st, every job posting and hire for Alberta hospitals needs to go through the province's new health care superboard.
"They push you to do a fast-track nursing program and say we need nurses, nurses, nurses and [Tuesday] there [were] two postings on the Calgary Health Region's website," said Patterson, who graduated as the valedictorian of her program.
"I need a job now, I just finished school, I'm broke. You're going to lose nurses if you don't employ us," she said, noting she may have to go back to serving.
Tom Noseworthy, a former hospital administrator who now works at the U of C, said the province has gone from a wide-open job market to suddenly appearing as if nurses aren't needed.
"At an absolute minimum I'm confused, and certainly it does narrow the options for new graduates," said Noseworthy. "The fact that we have a hiring freeze on now and we have this temporary reprieve in hiring I don't think takes away the fundamental problem -- I think we've got a fiscal reality that has overtaken the human resources reality here."
Alberta Health Services spokesperson Bruce Conway said the change in hiring practices has more to do with creating consistency across the province than eliminating positions.
Conway stressed Albertan hospitals are still hiring, noting the new process "has just taken a little time to get rolling."
"We have to adhere to a tight budget, but that's not to say that there's not opportunities for graduates, because there are," he said.
The perception of an effective hiring freeze contradicts the well-established fact that there is a chronic shortage of registered nurses in Alberta, said Students' Union nursing faculty rep Stephen Rudolf.
Fourth-year nursing students -- who regularly work as undergraduate nursing employees under a RN -- say they aren't getting hired, noted Rudolf.
"How will AHS meet the demand for more nursing staff by making conditions more difficult for frontline nurses and slashing work learning opportunities for nursing students?" said Rudolf, pointing to the irony of spending money on infrastructure projects like the West Tower at the Foothills Medical Center and the expansion of the Peter Lougheed Center, while they are not able or willing to hire staff to run them.
"[The AHS] lack of effort to recruit Alberta nursing students and their recent actions cutting off important job opportunities will drive frustrated students elsewhere, whether to other places or other professions," said Rudolf.