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Sask. program keeps nurses working while upgrading

A new strategy is expected to en-courage more nurse practitioners to practise in rural and remote areas of Saskatchewan.

Leland Sommer, president elect of the Saskatchewan Association of Nurse Practitioners, said the recruitment program includes four initiatives to be phased in over two years.

The program was recently an-nounced by the provincial government and designed largely by nurse practitioners.

A critical component, called Grow Your Own, will pay registered nurses’ wages and benefits for up to two years while they take nurse practitioner training, as long as they work for the next five years in the sponsoring health region.

Sommer said this addresses a flaw in the province’s student loan forgiveness program and helps established residents stay in their communities while providing primary care.

“We have to be registered nurses for a minimum of two years before we can train and educate as nurse practitioners,” he said.

“So none of the nurses that were taking that education would be able to even get a student loan.”

He said many nurses working in rural or remote areas can’t afford the time off or the money to take the extra training.

“What this allows is for those nurse practitioners to concentrate on their education, be provided a salary in their home communities, take their education and complete the education quickly.”

Sommer, who practices in Cupar, Southey and Regina Beach, worked full-time weekend rotations for five years while obtaining his master’s degree as a nurse practitioner.

Cupar has visiting physician service one day a week. Southey did not have a doctor for six years before Sommer arrived in May 2012, and Regina Beach has never had primary service.

Nurse practitioners are able to assess and diagnose patients, order medications and diagnostics and do minor in-office surgical procedures.

The strategy will cost the province $250,000 per year and applies in communities with populations of less than 10,000.

Other aspects of the program in-clude establishing a locum pool for nurse practitioners, allowing health regions to move vacant nursing positions within the region to communities with a need for a nurse practitioner, and relocation grants of up to $40,000 over five years for those who practice in hard-to-recruit positions or locations.

There is no particular target, but the number of nurse practitioners has grown by 70 percent to 170, indicating a need and a demand.

“Our numbers show that we have 24 vacancies and over the next five years we’re going to need 40 more nurse practitioners so we’re certainly working towards that,” Weekes said.

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