‘heal’ of change

🕔Aug 04, 2005

Falling numbers of nurses could become an awful problem in northern British Columbia, but this September’s opening of Terrace’s first four-year degree in nursing pushes against the trend.

“Senior nurses are starting to retire, especially in specialty fields,” explains Mark Karjaluoto, director of communications with the Northern Health Authority in Prince George.

Currently there are 1,500 nurse professionals in northern British Columbia. But, the experts remind, the shortage of nurses is not just a northern British Columbian problem, nor just a Canadian one; there is an international shortage in the field.

The opening of the new nursing program in Terrace is a collaborative effort between Northwest Community College, the College of New Caledonia, University of British Columbia, and funding from Northern Health Authority. It is targeted for the concerns of the region.

“The content and structure is focused on issues in the North,” explains Ian Blue, a professor of nursing at UNBC. “There is a strong aboriginal and First Nations concentration, and dealing with trauma from the forestry industry and rehabilitation. Also road accidents are a particularly northern issue, due to the low number of seat belt usage.”

Developing homegrown talent for hospitals and health centres is a focus of the program. Over eight of 10 UNBC nursing students begin work in northern British Columbia following graduation. But what pushes one towards a career in the shift-work and grind in treating traumas and people at their worst?

“It takes a genuine desire to help people,” Kelly McNabb explains, a third-year student in UNBC’s nursing program in Prince George. “You genuinely have to be a people person and have an interest in biology.”

But as a former psychology major from the University of British Columbia, and originally from London, Ontario, McNabb is the exception at the UNBC nursing program.

“Most of the students here are from northern British Columbia,” McNabb says from her new home in Prince George, “a few from the Lower Mainland or the island, but mostly from around here.”

Some exceptional reviews of the school won her over to attend UNBC, as well its intensive study. “There are nursing-specific courses in the first year, and by the second year you are in the hospital. That’s not like other nursing schools,” she says.

“I also wanted to get away from the big city for awhile. It’s a better opportunity to study and stay focused.”