A new UNB degree program is aimed at getting nursing hopefuls onto the job faster in order to address shortages in New Brunswick.
UNB Saint John will be launching a three-year bachelor of nursing program starting in September 2024, said Arlene Dunn, the province's minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, at an announcement Friday afternoon at UNB Saint John.
Petra Hauf, UNB vice-president, Saint John, told the crowd it was "condensing a well-oiled machine" to offer a more accessible alternative to the school's four-year nursing bachelor program, with a three-terms-per-year model.
"It's extremely important that we build those avenues and pathways ... and expedite those opportunities, make it easier for them to get back out into the field quickly," Dunn told reporters after the announcement. "That helps with the shortage we have right now."
Dunn said the province will provide $412,000 up front for the first class of 21 students, with up to $1.2 million available over three years dependent on evaluation of results, including student graduation rate and continued enrolment and retention throughout the program.
Hauf told reporters some of that money would be used to pick up additional faculty.
"We will need more faculty to support the clinics, and that's why we're so happy to have PETL supporting us with the funds to be able to hire the additional staff that we need," she said.
Catherine Hamilton, chair of the nursing department at UNB Saint John, told the Telegraph-Journal that the program will have the same rigour but has some different scheduling.
While some nursing courses have to be taken in order because they "build off each other," others which can be moved will be done during the summer term, she said.
For years two and three of the program, what that ends up looking like is fewer courses per term, without a summer break.
"Students are going to get the same education, fewer courses per term, the same number of total courses," Hamilton said, noting that students can then recoup the extra pay from starting their career a year earlier.
Hamilton said the department has created a leadership position related to academic success who will monitor the program and whether there are issues with lack of a break or lack of extra time to work.
"When we have a new program like this, we're very interested in just this issue, especially when there are possible stressors," she said. "We're acutely aware of it, and we're just going to monitor them. We're aware of it, it's on our radar, we're supporting them."
For the first year, applicants would study alongside students in the four-year program, which currently has 56 seats, and once the schedules diverged they would look at opportunities to "maximize" having classes at the same time, Hamilton said.
For clinical placements, Hauf said that this enables trainees to go "off-cycle," taking advantage of placement spots that may have been filled during a regular term.
"Offering that off-cycle option allows us to have more access options for students because learning and learners have different needs now than they might have had 20 years ago," she said.
Dunn said that there would be opportunities to review the success of the program in March of 2025 and 2026.
"We would want to see that continuity of student attraction and retention through that entire process, and of course success rates as well," she said, adding that the funding may continue "as long as the partners are committed to doing what they signed up to do."
According to Horizon Health Network's nurse recruitment dashboard, there is a target of 708 new nurses by March 2024, with 376 of those positions filled. In June, the provincial nursing union said there were 1,200 vacancies, the Telegraph-Journal previously reported.
"We are working diligently to make sure that we're focused on what that gap is and filling that gap," Dunn said.
Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal