Nova Scotia

Nursing programs expanding to more applicants, but not more seats

Thousands more licensed practical nurses in Nova Scotia can now apply to a special educational stream to become a registered nurse. But the competition to get in will still be stiff.

Nova Scotia's advanced education minister says 200 nursing school seats to be added in 18 to 24 months

Thousands of LPNs can now apply to a program to become an RN. The expedited path was previously restricted to applicants who graduated from NSCC after 2008. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Thousands more licensed practical nurses in Nova Scotia can now apply to a special educational stream to become a registered nurse. 

But while more people will be able to apply to upgrade their skills, they'll be competing for the same number of seats at Cape Breton University and St. Francis Xavier University.

Until now, only LPNs who graduated from NSCC after 2008 could apply for the expedited path to a bachelor of science, nursing degree.

It's a faster stream that recognizes on–the–job experience.

The change means those who studied in other provinces, or went to NSCC before 2008 can now apply, starting with the 2022-23 academic year.

"What we were looking for is a way to get more nurses into the system, more RNs into the system. When we look at our LPNs, we have a number of them out there that really wish to move on to become RNs," said Brian Wong, minister of advanced education.

He sees it as a way to help with the ongoing nursing shortage. 

"They already have the experience, and the education and the credentials."

While the hope is to create more registered nurses on a faster timeline, interest in nursing is not currently an issue.

Competitive programs

CBC has previously reported that nursing is one of the most competitive educational programs in the province, and applications far outweigh the number of seats.

St. FX said that for the 2021 school year, it received nearly four applicants for every available seat.

The province estimates that the expanded eligibility will open the door for 4,400 licensed practical nurses to apply to the program. In the 2021 academic year, the province says 71 LPNs were accepted into that pathway. Most of them — 57 — went to St. FX, while 14 went to CBU.

There is a plan to eventually expand the number of nursing seats in the province, but it's not simple. A major hurdle is that nurses are too overworked to provide mentorship to students when they're working in their clinical placements. 

In March, the Tory budget included $3.2 million to create 200 new nursing student seats. Of those, CBU is set to gain 28 spots, and St. FX would have an additional 26.

Wong says those new spots won't officially be in place for a while.

"We are currently working on that, and we are hoping that within the next 18 to 24 months that we'll have that additional 200 seats fully implemented."

Wong says it's a win that the eligibility is changing immediately. He says government has been talking about this behind the scenes for years.

"We really tried to be innovative," he said of the effort between the province, the schools and the Nova Scotia College of Nursing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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