The inaugural eight students in the Saskatchewan Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing (SCBScN) Program offered through the Great Plains College campus in Swift Current have begun the journey to become the first Saskatchewan students outside of Regina and Saskatoon to earn this nursing degree.
A program launch celebration was hosted on Monday at the College, signalling the ceremonial start of the SCBScN Program which was formally agreed to in November 2012. The Collaborative is offered in partnership between the University of Regina and the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST), with Monday's launch moving the program into rural Saskatchewan for the first time. Students in Saskatoon take their four-year program at the SIAST Kelsey Campus, while Regina-based students attend classes at both the SIAST Wascana Campus and the University of Regina.
"Today was a fantastic day. A really exciting day for Nursing education in the province of Saskatchewan and in particular for this sector of the province," said David Gregory, the Dean of the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Regina.
"It is all part of that distributive nursing education model that the government has approved, advanced education approved and distributive education is part of that model so both our programs SIAST/U of R the collaborative and as well as the U of S are committed to distributive nursing education in the province," Gregory explained.
This joint initiative brings nursing education to the Southwest, and the program is hoped to become a contributor in filling the region’s ongoing need for skilled nurses.
"That's the value for our Region is that we have that opportunity to start working with students right at the start of their career and they become part of our team, so that's just really important to us," Cypress Health Region CEO Beth Vachon said on Monday.
"We know that within particularly our small rural communities we're often one nurse away from having a closed facility. So any time that we have the opportunity to have nurses that we're able to recruit a little more easily, that's so significant for us."
The Cypress Health Region will be hosting the SCBScN students in local healthcare facilities, with the program offering clinical practice education in acute care hospitals, along with settings including schools, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, plus community health and public health organizations.
Vachon added that the Cypress Health Region is proud to serve as a training centre for both doctors and nurses.
"We have really fostered an environment to be a learning institution, a learning organization," she said. "It's one of our values as an organization that we provide opportunities for students. We believe that we have an obligation to ensure that students can come in, that they get what they need, we need to be able to provide that."
"In the last few years we've really seen some terrific results between our Family Medicine residents and now of course our nursing programs. So that's been good news from our perspective."
Having these healthcare professionals trained in the community benefits the health region by giving them an added edge in their recruitment and retention efforts. All eight first-year SCBScN students are from communities in the Cypress Health Region, so Vachon is hoping they will all begin their professional careers here after graduation.
Great Plains College President and CEO David Keast is confident the program will expand over time, but is anxious to follow the progress of the students in the newly offered opportunity.
"The first year usually tells the story," Keast noted. "It'll be readily apparent to us that things are going well. And I have full confidence in SIAST, in the University of Regina, and the Health Region to pitch in do what it necessary to help us get that done. So I would say the first year tells the tale."
"What we'd be looking for now is a top-notch educational experience," Keast explained. "Those students need to have a University experience. I'm confident that that's going to happen. And they need to be on par with students in Regina and Saskatoon, that's the goal, and I see everything in place in order to achieve that."
He also noted the significance of Great Plains College being the first rural campus to offer the SCBScN Program.
"It adds the expanded opportunity for degree completion. And we want that, and we want more of it. And I think that the model that has been used here, and the planning that went into it, with multiple partners, I think you're going to be seeing more of this in the future. I think this demonstrates a better model for this type of delivery outside of the metropolitan areas. And I think what's going to happen is that it will become readily apparent through demonstration through our success that this is really the way to go. It certainly is one additional way to go to offer more access for rural Saskatchewan, and the Southwest in particular. And that is highly significant to us as a college."
Netha Dyck, Dean of the Nursing Division at SIAST, said there is no drop off in educational experience through the Great Plains College program.
"The quality of education is going to be great. They're going to be using a number of blended learning strategies to delivery the courses and the entire program. They'll have the opportunity to learn with their students on campus. There'll be courses offered on-line, we're going to be using videoconferencing. So there's a variety of learning methods that'll be used to meet the various learning styles of students. And also it just creates more flexibility, more innovation in the delivery of the program," Dyck said.
"And having a group of eight students is quite an opportunity as well. So they'll have the opportunity to get to know each other, to learn from one another, be a support to one another, and go through that program together as a small cohort, so that's also a great opportunity for them."
SIAST, the University of Regina, the Cypress Health Region and Great Plains College have been working over the past number of months to add the program since signing a Memorandum of Agreement in Nov. 2012. Students will be able to utilize the practicum lab at Cypress Regional Hospital, and the College prepared for the delivery of classes by completing a newly renovated lab and increasing internet bandwidth for the teleconference and on-line demands of the classes.
"Well you know we started planning for this well over a year and a half ago but once the idea took root everybody has worked very very diligently to make it happen and you know it's been such a pleasure to work with SIAST and with Dean Netha Dyck in terms of moving this initiative forward and Great Plains College as well and the Cypress Health Region. Everybody has really stepped up to the table to make this happen," Gregory explained.
Nancy Heppner, Minister of Central Services, was also on hand to recognize the importance of the day.
"People tend to stay where they train. And having more of a decentralized approach to education, particularly when it comes to healthcare, I think it's going to really benefit our smaller communities," the Swift Current-born Heppner said.
"So we're hoping that once they've received their training here that they'll go back to their home communities, or within the Cypress region, which is going to help those smaller communities."
She said the new program also shows the provincial government's commitment to healthcare in the province.
"We've expanded training seats for nurses. We've expanded training seats for doctors, and expanded residency opportunities for doctors as well. And I think it's an ongoing process that we've made some really great strides in the last seven years to expand those seats," Heppner said.