With demand for nurse practitioners rising, UPEI looks to keep up

UPEI says the provincial government won't have any problem filling the seven new nurse practitioner positions recently posted, as long as it's willing to wait a few months for new graduates.

PEI Nurses' Union questions whether there are enough nurse practitioners to fill 7 new positions

A doctor wearing a white coat and stethoscope.
P.E.I. advertised for seven new nurse practitioner positions this week and UPEI says it will have graduates to fill some of those jobs. (David Donnelly/CBC)

UPEI says the provincial government won't have any problem filling the seven new nurse practitioner positions recently posted as long as it's willing to wait a few months for new graduates. 

The PEI Nurses' Union questioned this week how easy it will be to fill the seven new positions without "some great recruitment strategies" by Health PEI.

"Where are these nurse practitioners coming from?" asked union president Mona O'Shea.  "There's the program here at UPEI.  But it's only [graduating students] every two years... And right now on P.E.I., I don't believe there are any casual nurse practitioners out there."

Mona O'Shea, president of the PEI Nurses' Union, questions how easily Health PEI will be able to fill seven new nurse practitioner positions. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

But Terri Kean, who is responsible for the nurse practitioner stream of UPEI's master of nursing program, said the university is graduating five students in May, all of whom are keen to live and work on the Island.

She said there are also other Islanders graduating at the same time from other nurse practitioner programs in Canada. 

"It won't be a problem to get those filled, and I bet if we talk again in June or July, they'll be all filled," Kean said. 

'We don't want to overpopulate'

Kean said since UPEI's nurse practitioner program started in 2011, the aim has been to respond to the growing demand for nurse practitioners on the Island.  

The three-year master's program started with just three nurses.  Since that time, as the number of nurse practitioners working for Health PEI has grown from four to 22,  UPEI has added more seats into the program.  Last year, the university accepted eight nurses.

Terri Kean, who is responsible for UPEI's nurse practitioner program, says while she regularly speaks to recruiters from other provinces, her students aren't interested in working off Island. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Kean said while that may not sound like a big number, it's as many nurse practitioners as the university is comfortable graduating. 

"We want to control the growth, in terms of making sure there's a market demand for the services," Kean said. "We don't want to overpopulate — have students come in and have no hope of a job, or have to leave the province for a job.  The people in our programs are highly committed to the Island."

Turning down recruiters 

It's not that other provinces wouldn't hire them in a heartbeat, Kean said. 

Across Canada, communities struggling to recruit and retain enough physicians have hired nurse practitioners to take on some of the patient load.

Nurse practitioners are trained to do "about 70 per cent" of the work of family doctors, Kean said. 

I always ask our students if they'd like the recruitersto come. But to date, no one's taken recruiters up on that.- Terri Kean, UPEI School of Nursing

The demand for nurse practitioners has also been driven by a move to a more collaborative model of health care that sees doctors working in a team with nurse practitioners, social workers and other health professionals. 

Kean said she regularly hears from recruiters in other provinces wanting to win over UPEI's graduates. 

"And I always ask our students if they'd like the recruiters to come," Kean said. "But to date, no one's taken recruiters up on that."

Health PEI said Islanders can expect to see more nurse practitioner positions added in the future, which Kean said will likely prompt UPEI to accept more students into its program. 

She says the program will continue to adapt how it trains nurse practitioners as well. 

"We know it's an aging population, so what could our focus be around aging? We know we have concerns around mental health, so could we put more NP's into mental health?" she said.

"As the needs of the province unfolds, we'll be able to be reflexive and responsive to that."