Personal support workers and licensed practical nurses can now upgrade their credentials without leaving their current jobs.
Under a new pilot program, they can study part time, while still making full-time wages and paying no tuition.
The $13.3 million program, funded through an agreement with the federal government, was announced Friday in Saint John. It will give 208 people a chance to train in Saint John and Bathurst.
Trevor Holder, minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, said the program will be re-evaluated after two years to make sure it's working as it should. At least two cohorts, one this fall and one next fall, will graduate regardless of whether the program is renewed or not, he said.
"This is the first step," Holder said. "Right now we just want to get it launched in conjunction with all of the other things that we're doing on the nursing front and work the kinks out of it, and then hopefully come back to the point where we can expand it beyond this."
Eligible workers are likely to be already employed at long-term care facilities and nursing homes, he said. In two or three years, personal support workers can upgrade to be licensed practical nurses, and licensed practical nurses can become registered nurses.
Tuition will be covered at the New Brunswick Community College, Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick, University of Moncton and University of New Brunswick, and there won't be a pay cut during training. Employees in the program will also keep their benefits, Holder said.
The province, like many other parts of the country, has been grappling with a nurse shortage. New Brunswick has more than 1,000 vacant nursing positions, according to data from Horizon Health Network.
This pilot program is the latest of several programs announced to increase nursing seats at universities and encourage nurses to move to the province. Some incentives include $10,000 in signing bonuses and up to $5,000 in relocation costs.
Once they graduate, they will have to work in the province for the same amount of time it took them to graduate — two or three years depending on their program, Holder said.
Brenda Kinney, vice-president and chief nursing officer for Horizon Health, said the health authority will be working to find backfill for the workers while they train. She said Horizon and the province are also recruiting licensed practical nurses and personal support workers to make up the shortfall.
"[We're] going to be working with each one, depending on the area they work in, to develop the schedule that works best for them so that we can accommodate that education component," Kinney said.
Health Minister Bruce Fitch said the pilot project is limited. There will be 28 spots for licensed practical nurses and 28 for personal support workers in Saint John, and 24 spots for each position in Bathurst this fall and the same number in fall 2024.