Heather McAleney, a former summer camp counsellor from Fort St. John in northern B.C., recently graduated with a nursing degree in May. She secured a registered nurse position at a hospital in Dawson Creek, about 75 kilometres away.
“It’s a dream come true — I wake up every morning, and I get to do the thing that I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” she said.
Rather than pursuing a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing, McAleney chose a two-year Northern Baccalaureate Nursing Program (NBNP) offered at the University of Northern B.C.’s Peace River-Liard campus in Fort St. John. This accelerated program is designed for people with previous undergraduate education.
Being part of the first graduating cohort of the NBNP in Fort St. John, McAleney will witness the launch of the same program at UNBC’s campus at the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in downtown Prince George this fall.
Under the program, students need to complete 68 credits of nursing courses and a practicum within two years to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Before entering the program, students are required to have completed at least 24 credits of courses directly related to health care.
In comparison, students enrolled in a full four-year nursing degree program need to complete 136 credits of nursing courses and practicum, with no prerequisites upon enrollment.
Both the two-year and four-year degrees offered by UNBC are recognized by the B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives, the regulatory body for the profession. Graduates from these programs must pass a national nurse licensing examination to become registered nurses.
Catherine Schiller, the chair of UNBC’s School of Nursing, says the NBNP in Prince George will have an inaugural cohort of 12 students. She emphasizes that these students will graduate with the same level of skills as those from a four-year program.
“They are going to be graduating with the same qualifications, the same experiential journey through nursing school.
“It’s just in a condensed format because they come to us already having taken their electives, their basic science courses that form part of the four-year journey,” Schiller told host Carolina de Ryk on CBC’s Daybreak North.
Addressing shortage of registered nurses
The NBNP expansion aligns with the B.C. government’s announcement last February to add 602 new nursing seats to public post-secondary institutions in the province. Similar fast-track programs have also been available in other post-secondary institutions such as the University of British Columbia, Kwantlen University and Vancouver Community College.
This expansion also comes in response to a severe shortage of nursing professionals in B.C., with more than 5,200 unfilled positions reported by the B.C. Nurses’ Union in spring 2022.
The university states that the NBNP’s goal is to address the need for nursing professionals in northern B.C., and Schiller encourages graduates to remain and work in the region, particularly in rural areas.
McAleney, who was born and grew up in Fort St. John, completed a two-year associate degree in health studies at the Northern Lights College campus in her hometown to meet the admission requirement for the NBNP.
She acknowledges that the nursing program was intense, with little time for socializing and an average of five hours of sleep per day over the two years.
Despite the challenges, McAleney says she is pleased to have been able to complete the nursing program while staying in her hometown.
She says she’s excited about her first nursing job in Dawson Creek and hopes to dispel the misconception that northern B.C. is just cold and miserable.
“A lot of people here [in] northern B.C. think it’s cold and miserable and just awful, but it’s so much more than that,” she said.
“It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, literally.”