The Northwest Territories' main college has produced more nursing graduates than ever, with nearly all of this year's grads working in the territory.

A record 14 people graduated from Aurora College's four-year nursing degree program this spring, and 13 of them are starting jobs within the N.W.T.

The college offers a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at its Yellowknife campus, in partnership with the University of Victoria.

Regional health officials in communities like Hay River, N.W.T., say they have hired one or two Aurora College graduates every spring since the first class graduated in 2004.

"Many of them are committed to the North already, so [given] the costs of moving people in and out, that's an immediate benefit to the employer," Joletta Larocque, director of employee services with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, told CBC News.

"They're used to the culture of the North … many of them are familiar with many of the clients in the community," she added.

Placement program pays off

Karen Rowe, a nurse educator with the Hay River authority, said the college's graduate placement program is paying off in the community.

Rowe said the graduate placement program means Hay River has an eight per cent nursing vacancy rate — one of the lowest vacancy rates in the N.W.T., which has an overall rate of 27 per cent.

"A large proportion of our staff at this time came to us on grad placements," Rowe said.

"I think it's quite a proactive program. I think it was initially intended to fill gaps and to create a stronger northern nursing group. And I think, for the most part, it's been successful."

While Aurora College graduates are filling the N.W.T.'s entry-level nursing jobs, officials say time is needed before those graduates can take on more skilled positions.

"What we need to continue to do is to develop northern nurses to fill some of those other roles in our system, including emergency room nurses, community health nurses," said Shaleen Woodward, the Health Department's director of system reform and innovation.

That development starts in the graduates' first years at work, as more experienced nurses mentor them, she added.