MONTREAL -- With a dire nurse shortage, much worse than last spring, the province has looked at how to make use of all the available labour—geographical transfers, bringing in students to work full-time, asking doctors to take on nursing work.

But not all of that will help. Intensive care nurses, who are some of the most crucial right now, are highly trained, and most other workers cannot do their jobs at a moment’s notice.

“ICU nurses are highly trained—it's a very high pressured area,” said Joanne Scullion, a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital.

“You can't take someone who works in plastic surgery to go and work in ICU. Ca ne marche pas, it doesn't work.”

That dilemma has led to a new risk: if the province tries to relocate nurses to ICUs, some are threatening to quit, said a nurses’ union. It said it had heard of such cases beginning already.

“The fear will be ‘If I don’t have enough support as a health-care professional, it could be dangerous for both the health-care professional and the patient,’” said Denyse Joseph, a vice-president at the FIQ union.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health described some of what it’s doing to fill the shortage but didn’t say whether it begun asking nurses to transfer to ICUs.

The ministry told CTV News that it has most recently been asking doctors to do some nursing work.

“We asked the network this week to be flexible: some physicians can expand their duties to include nursing duties,” the ministry said.

“We are also open to moving resources from one region to another if necessary.”

If nurses do feel they’re forced into a job they’re unqualified, and if they quit, it will make the crisis worse, said Joseph.

“We need to be very careful,” she said. “When you bring people in to help, you cannot ask them to [fill] the shoes of a health-care professional with many years in that field.”

The plan to recruit nursing students in exchange for scholarship money is, however, creating some hope. The ministry said that so far, 500 students have applied, out of 2,000 potential spots.