Licensed Practical Nurses will be able to jump ahead to the third year of UNB Saint John's bachelor of nursing degree as part of a two-year pilot project. (Price Chambers/Jackson Hole News & Guide/Associated Press)

A new pilot program at UNB Saint John will allow licensed practical nurses to jump ahead to year three of a bachelor of nursing program as a way to graduate more registered nurses in New Brunswick.

With a generation of nurses set to retire, the provincial government is supporting the project with an investment of nearly $2 million over four years.

The N.B. Nurses Union says 45 per cent of nurses in the province are currently eligible to retire.

"We expect this transition program to contribute significantly to addressing the current and projected needs for nursing resources," said Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Danny Soucy.

"This is one way our government is helping to balance the needs of the labour market."

Licensed practical nurses in New Brunswick complete a two-year program at community college.

Extra skills

JoAnne Graham, executive director of the Association of New Brunswick Licensed Practical Nurses, says there are key differences between practical nurses and registered nurses, who complete a university degree.

"There's an extra two years of education and more critical thinking skills," she said.

Under the pilot program practical nurses will be able to begin in year three of the bachelor of nursing program at UNB Saint John. In the past, LPNs had to start the program from the beginning.

"We never had that in our province, so what was happening is those that wanted to do it had to take a full four-year program to become a BN," said Graham.

Partnership with N.B. Community College

Ruth Shaw, the dean of science, said with so many nurses retiring it makes sense for practical nurses to step into those positions. 

"There's been a bit of flattening of growth of Canadian registered nurses, and there's been a growth of LPNs in the workforce," said Shaw.

In order to qualify for the new program, licensed practical nurses must be graduates from a two-year training program offered at the New Brunswick Community College. Students have to complete a transition program with a minimum grade point average of 3.0.

The project will accommodate two cohorts with a maximum of 24 students each. The first one will be admitted in January 2014. Successful applicants will graduate in 2016. The expected graduation date for the second cohort is 2017.