Ontario to pay tuition for more nurses, paramedics, lab technicians who work in underserved areas

Premier Doug Ford meets members of the Middlesex-London Paramedic Service at the London, Ont., headquarters on Friday. Ford was in the city to announce the province's expanded program for post-secondary students in certain medical professions. (Kate Dubinski/ CBC News - image credit)
Premier Doug Ford meets members of the Middlesex-London Paramedic Service at the London, Ont., headquarters on Friday. Ford was in the city to announce the province's expanded program for post-secondary students in certain medical professions. (Kate Dubinski/ CBC News - image credit)

An Ontario government program that pays for tuition and books for nurses who agree to work for two years in the city where they studied is expanding to include similar grants for paramedics and lab technicians.

"We're bolstering our workforce and building a pipeline of health-care talent for growing and underserved communities," Premier Doug Ford said Friday at a news conference at the Middlesex London Paramedic Services headquarters in London.

"This is a real win-win. We're providing students with opportunities for a great education and a rewarding career, and we're increasing the number of health-care workers in underserved communities so that Ontarians in every corner of the province get the quality of care they need closer to home."

The Learn and Stay grant program, first announced in March 2022, started with 1,500 nursing students and is expanding to include 2,500 students in nursing, and the lab technician and paramedics fields.

Ford said the government is working with colleges, universities and health-care providers to make it faster and more convenient to connect to care. A full list of which programs, institutions and regions are included in the program is here.

Kate Dubinski / CBC News
Kate Dubinski / CBC News

Under the program, students can apply for "full, up-front funding" at select colleges and universities. It includes the cost of tuition, books and other supplies.

News of the upgraded grant program comes just days after Ontario said it would be significantly expanding the number and range of medical procedures performed in privately run clinics to deal with surgery backlogs. The plan has drawn concern from various health-care professionals, who worry it would drain resources from publicly funded hospitals and benefit owners of private-sector clinics without improving patient care.

When asked about the plan to expand the use of private clinics, Health Minister Sylvia Jones, who was at the Friday news conference in London, said: "We will continue to work with our hospital partners to expand their ability to offer surgeries in their operating rooms, but we will also expand community opportunities because we know that there are over 800 clinics that exist in the province of Ontario and they're doing excellent work."

Expanding the grant program — making sure nurses are available to work in hospitals when paramedics arrive with patients, and offloading the treatment of minor ailments to pharmacies — is part of a comprehensive provincial program to improve health care, she added.

"All of these programs together are really to ensure that our emergency departments are there when you have an emergency."