Northern nursing program to begin in fall

By Ben Ingram

In the fight for improved healthcare in the North a new advantage has emerged.

Beginning this year, students seeking a four-year nursing degree will be able to study in La Ronge and Ile-a-la Crosse, where an onsite program through Northlands College has been established to cater to the specific needs of northerners.

The four-year registered nursing degree joins an existing two-year licensed practical nursing program that will also be made available online this year.

For northerners, it’s the first local chance for students to obtain a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

Born of a partnership between the University of Saskatchewan and Northlands College, the hope is to produce more healthcare workers familiar with the needs of northerners.

While the coordinator for the RN program is currently on vacation, Paul Ballentyne, a senior program coordinator with northlands college who operates the LPN studies, said seven students are expected to start in September.

“It trains northerners to cater to northerners,” he said.

Instead of having to travel as far as Regina or Saskatoon to pursue their careers, students will benefit from the convenience of local studies with a northern flavour. For Ballentyne, the hope is more recruitment for the North.

“The majority of the students are mature, they have other responsibilities,” he said, expressing his feeling that northerners are discouraged from entering the field due to commitments at home. “They have other responsibilities, they have families and children and spouses. They can’t just pack up and leave.”

He described the new four-year program as “a work in progress,” but the first-year of studies has been prepared for the coming year.

Thomas Sierzycki, mayor of La Ronge, said the new four-year RN program is a welcomed addition in the North.

“It’s very valuable to have, anytime you can promote education in the North, you’re moving towards ending socio-economic issues,” he said. “It’s bridging that gap that we already have in healthcare.”

Sierzycki echoed the feeling of Ballentyne that an untapped resource of people with the desire to study in the North exists, one hindered by responsibilities and familial commitments.

“I think it’s just very exciting and anytime we can move the North in a positive way, we’re all benefiting together because we are a big province, but a small demographic,” he said.

“If we can get these trained people in our communities back in our communities, everybody seems to be benefiting from that.”

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