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Exploring the possibility of rural nursing program

Before moving to Bonnyville with her family, Kelly Haygarth never thought she would enter the medical field. ”I had two kids, they were three and five, and (Covenant Health and Grant MacEwan University) offered the (rural registered nurse) program.
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Kelly Haygarth, registered nurse, became a chemotherapy nurse and cancer patient navigator after taking a rural nursing program in Bonnyville roughly a decade ago.

Before moving to Bonnyville with her family, Kelly Haygarth never thought she would enter the medical field.

”I had two kids, they were three and five, and (Covenant Health and Grant MacEwan University) offered the (rural registered nurse) program. I saw it, and I thought, ‘I’m going to try this.’ I never ever thought I would go into nursing, but I did, and it’s the best thing I ever did,” she expressed.

It was the success of the local program that prompted discussions three years ago when challenges around the recruitment and retention of nurses in rural areas started.

Chantal Vallee, nurse practitioner at the Bonnyville Health Centre, said there have been discussions with Covenant Health about bringing a similar course back to the local hospital.

”We hadn’t really got anywhere, but it seemed to have picked up a little traction here with Grant MacEwan University to look at options, and is there a real possibility to bringing this program back out to the area?”

They’re still exploring the opportunity, and have reached out to Town and MD of Bonnyville for support.

”(The program) had great success before, and the fruits of that labour before are still in our region working. It would be great to bring it back because we’re seeing a bit of a nursing shortage right now,” noted MD Reeve Greg Sawchuk.

Town of Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski agreed.

”It will help to alleviate some of the shortages that we’re seeing, and also integrate better training for rural nurses versus the big city.”

Both municipalities submitted letters of support to Covenant Health for the initiative.

”The other thing was to ask if there was potential space. Is there potential opportunities for placement programs and practicums? If we’re going to bring this course out, and we have 20 or 30 nurses that need practicum, we’re going to need placement opportunities,” Vallee expressed.

Haygarth said a number of nurses who took the program alongside her over a decade ago currently work in the Lakeland.

On their last assessment, there are still 19 registered nurses in the area, according to Vallee.

Offering the program allows a unique learning environment for those interested in becoming a nurse practitioner.

”You do have to be multi-tasked and know a lot of different areas, because in rural, you don’t necessarily work in one specific area of the hospital,” detailed Vallee. “You may have to work in different areas and have a lot of different skills, abilities, and be flexible with that. I think there’s a good opportunity to develop a well-rounded nurse, and we’ve certainly seen that with nurses working out there now who were trained in rural areas.”

Haygarth added, “You learn so much more because you’re a jack-of-all-trades. In Edmonton, you’re on the cardiac floor, but when you come onto acute care you could have a palliative patient, surgical, and all sorts of different patients in the same day.”

For those who have already established themselves in the community, the program would offer them the ability to attend classes close to home. Haygarth expressed how she wouldn’t have taken a course that required her to move away from her family.

”I think it would get people interested in nursing that never thought it would be an option for them,” she said. “I never would have. I’m not a city person... and I always thought, ‘oh, I’d have to move away to Edmonton or Saskatoon and go away to university.’ Being able to do most of it at home, I did have to do some clinical in the city, but that all worked out and was doable.”

The program is in the early stages, however, Vallee is hopeful it will be brought back to the area.

”We’re looking forward to the discussions, and to maybe move this forward. To see the support of Covenant Health to take on this initiative and advocate for our rural (jobs) is greatly appreciated,” she expressed.