The COVID-19 pandemic has driven home the importance of healthcare workers to people around the world as doctors, nurses, long term care givers and more have worked essential positions to care for those impacted by the virus, as well as to protect the public at large. Furthermore, the pandemic has highlighted the gaps in our healthcare systems when it comes to staffing numbers, which is where Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI) aims to make a difference.
SGEI is currently planning to bring its Practical Nursing program to the Fort Frances campus beginning in Sept. 2021 in an effort to provide a top-quality education to those interested in pursuing nursing as a career and hopefully help to an increase the number of nurses in the area, particularly when it comes to Indigenous professionals. The two-year diploma program is offered in partnership with Canadore College and is open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
Brigitte Loeppky is the Practical Nursing program co-ordinator for SGEI. She explained that while the program will only be offered if enough students are interested, it fits into the larger trend when it comes to the shortage of healthcare workers.
“All of our programs are delivered as long as there's the interest,” Loeppky said.
“But especially with COVID, you can now see there's a huge need for healthcare professionals, especially in our rural areas. So definitely nurses will always have jobs, but it's a very challenging career and the education is very intense as well, so it's not for everyone, but hopefully we get enough interest so we can deliver the program next year.”
It's a difficult program, but it's one that has proven its worth in the district. Last month SGEI announced that 100 per cent of its Practical Nursing graduates for 2020 passed the Canadian Practical Nurse Registration Exam (CPNRE), the qualifying exam that allows individuals to work as registered practical nurses in Ontario and most of Canada. Students can complete their program, but until they pass the CPRE, they cannot do work as nurses.
While the number of students going through the SGEI program is smaller than what might be seen in a class in a larger city centre, a 100 per cent success rate on the CPNRE is a remarkable achievement no matter the class size, and this is the second time an SGEI graduating class has done it.
The program teaches students nursing theory and practices, pharmacology, anatomy,physiology and more across two years and four semesters, and though it is an intense course, Loeppky also stressed that for those interested in pursuing becoming a nurse, there's more to the program than just getting good grades (though that is still necessary).
“First of all, it sounds cheesy, but you need to want to care for people,” she said.
“You really have to put others first, before yourself. Western Society really looks up to the straight-A student, and in nursing it's great to have straight-A's but what's even more important is the integrity of the individual, they need to be caring and compassionate and accountable.”
Programs at SGEI are open to everyone, but the institute is in a strong position to further the goals set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). In their Calls to Action, the TRC called upon all levels of government to “increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the healthcare field” and Loeppky said SGEI is doing exactly that by offering the Practical Nursing program across its campuses.
“I think what's really important is that my students are both Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” she explained.
“However there is a political component to our nursing program at Seven Gens. One of the items [from the TRC] to address is to increase the number of indigenous nurses in Ontario, and Seven Gens is doing that. We definitely have a deficiency of Indigenous nurses, and so we're addressing that as per the Truth and Reconciliation items to address, so it's pretty amazing. That is something that, when you look at social justice, is really important.”
At the end of the day, the strength of SGEI as a school comes not just from the programs and instructors it has, but from the institute as a whole that works together to provide students with a supportive place to learn.
“All the programs at SGEI, not just nursing, is a team effort,” Loeppky said.
“My name is in the newspaper, but it's so much more than just me as a co-ordinator. It's a whole family. Senior management, we have our CEO and directors, they invest in our students, so it comes from the bottom to the top, everyone is invested in the students. It is truly like a family. It's so much more than just their instructors.”
“Because of SGEI's support, the students are able to achieve that hardship and really stretch themselves and succeed,” she concluded.
Registration for the Practical Nursing program at SGEI's Fort Frances campus is expected to open in November of this year for a September 2021 start date. Check SGEI's website for information on this and many other programs they offer.