N.S. government announces new nursing program at Acadia University, more NSCC seats

Cape Breton University dean of nursing Kimberley Lamarche speaks at a news conference that included Premier Tim Houston and Acadia University president Peter Ricketts, seated. (Mark Crosby/CBC - image credit)
Cape Breton University dean of nursing Kimberley Lamarche speaks at a news conference that included Premier Tim Houston and Acadia University president Peter Ricketts, seated. (Mark Crosby/CBC - image credit)

The provincial government is spending $4 million to add 180 new licenced practical nursing seats at six Nova Scotia Community College campuses and establish a nursing program at Acadia University.

"I think the message today for Nova Scotians is no matter where you are in the province, anyone who is interested in becoming a nurse in Nova Scotia, after today there are more options available to you," Premier Tim Houston told a news conference at the Wolfville-based university.

The Acadia program will launch in September with 21 seats before growing to 63 a year. About half the seats will be designated for Mi'kmaq, Indigenous and African Nova Scotian students, a step university president Peter Ricketts said is about making "tangible advances in reconciliation, equity, diversity and inclusion."

Acadia's program will begin as a satellite site of the bachelor of science in nursing program at Cape Breton University. Ricketts said Acadia is pursuing a standalone program but, because accreditation can take years, a partnership with another university in the meantime will get students through the door sooner.

NSCC seats to help with waitlists

The school's provost, Dale Keefe, provided a connection between Acadia and CBU, his former employer, said Ricketts.

"Dale reached out to them and they immediately said, 'Absolutely. Let's talk about this, this is a great idea.'"

Along with CBU, Acadia joins Dalhousie and St. Francis Xavier as the other universities in the province to offer a registered nurse training program. Houston said he welcomed more partnerships between universities to help address the needs of the health-care system.

The expansion of the NSCC program, meanwhile, will see 30 additional seats added in September at each of the Annapolis Valley, Lunenburg, Strait Area and Truro campuses, while 30 new seats at both the Burridge and Kingstec campuses will be ready for next January.

Communications Nova Scotia
Communications Nova Scotia

Margaret Champion, the dean of health and human services at NSCC, said all of the programs getting new seats had waiting lists. She said the new seats could also help reduce demand at the metro Halifax campuses.

"Sometimes what we find when we can open more seats in the rural communities [is] people make a decision to stay closer to home," she said. "So they may find their way back there."

Doing this work — and in such a short time frame — is not without challenges.

Both institutions will require more faculty. Champion said job postings would go up soon, but the college has a network of nurses in casual teaching positions who could now be offered more full-time work.

Acadia needs more space

Because university nursing students take general science and humanities classes in their first year, Acadia has more time to get people in place, but Ricketts said nursing-specific faculty will need to be recruited in time for the fall of 2024.

The bigger need at Acadia will be space.

Ricketts said the program will be able to exist for the first year or two in renovated space. But in order to hit enrolment targets after that they will need additional space, he told reporters.

"We will need to build some dedicated laboratory space and learning space that's specifically needed for nursing."

Houston said his government remains focused on fixing health care in the province, although he did not provide specific commitments when asked about long-term funding related to Thursday's announcements.

Liberal MLA Keith Irving, whose district includes Acadia, said the announcement was great news for the university and rural communities around the province.

More than 1,100 training spaces with new seats

If he has any concerns, Irving said it would be related to housing options for students and ongoing funding to maintain the expanded program.

"We can create the seats, but now to fill them we are going to need the fiscal support and housing support," he said.

Thursday's announcement is the latest step by the Tory government to try to attract and retain more nurses.

Earlier this year, Houston announced more than $100 million in bonuses for nurses intended to keep people working in the system and convince people who recently retired, are working causal or doing travel nursing, to sign on for more permanent work.

The premier has also pledged job offers for every nursing graduate in the province for five years and last year's provincial budget included money for 200 new nurse training seats, which were subsequently opened.

When all of the new seats at NSCC are in place there will be 575 first-year licenced practical nursing training spots across the province. The new seats at Acadia are in addition to 551 first-year bachelor of science nursing spots already available at Nova Scotia universities.