Homegrown nurses
Local trainees the solution

Kerry McClusky
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Aug 16/99) - As the nursing shortage continues to ease off in the Baffin region, yet another positive step in the realm of Nunavut health care has been taken.

As of Oct. 4 of this academic year, Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit, in accordance with the health access program, will begin to offer a full four-year nursing degree program. According to officials working in the health-care area, the program is the first and only solution that will have a long-lasting impact on the troubled field.

"I'm just delighted," said Dennis Patterson, chair of the Baffin Regional Health and Social Services Board. "It's the only real solution to the recruitment and retention problems we've been struggling with. It's not a quick fix, but I applaud the Nunavut Government for clearly making that an early priority."

All three regions of Nunavut have been dealing with severe nursing shortages for at least the last year and this program, designed for students from across Nunavut, will help to ensure that health-care facilities are eventually staffed with Inuit professionals.

"It's hard to get nurses to come up here, so if you train nurses from here, this is their home, this is where they want to live and they better understand the culture and the social conditions," said Heather Fudge, the co-ordinator of the health sciences program.

While skeptics may note that the health access program -- designed to get students ready for nursing school -- has been plagued with funding problems in past years resulting in its cancellation and the disappointment of students, the government of Nunavut has committed roughly $600,000 a year over the next four years to fund the degree program.

Further, in an effort to keep students enrolled and successful, Fudge noted that a counsellor would be on staff to assist with the stresses of the program. She added that students would also receive good financial assistance.

Such strong support networks, Fudge said, means that when enrolment time comes around this October and in future years, students interested in nursing will have a culturally appropriate course that will train them for the rigorous work they will encounter in Nunavut.

"They (do) need to know pediatrics and obstetrics and orthopedics and adult surgery all in the same hour let alone the same day. They need a program that's geared towards educating nurses to work in Nunavut. This program does that."