Niagara College’s Applied Health Institute has been a hub of activity this fall term as it responds to help meet the provincial need for more health-care workers.
To support the demand for more nurses in Ontario, the College has expanded enrolment for its Practical Nursing program this Fall term. Its Fall intake includes 90 students, an increase from its usual intake of 60 in its regular delivery stream, in addition to a class of 30 in the alternate delivery stream who attend classes on evenings and weekends.
Dean of Community and Health Studies Carolyn Triemstra noted that NC’s Applied Health Institute has ramped up operations to seven days a week this Fall term to accommodate an increase in students in its School of Nursing and Personal Support Worker Studies.
“We saw the opportunity to support the community and we did what we felt was right,” she said. “Not only were we able to increase our Practical Nursing cohort by 30 this Fall and another 30 this Winter term, we have taken in over 140 Personal Support Worker students in two accelerated streams this Spring, in addition to those enrolled in our regular PSW program.”
For Angela Butt, associate dean of the College’s School of Nursing and PSW, it has been exciting to welcome an increased number of PN and PSW students, and she is thrilled about the lab expansions which have taken place to accommodate more students. She expects the increases to have both short- and long-term benefits in the field.
“The nurses and PSWs who have been providing patient care on the front lines have been incredibly resilient but they are stretched thin and have been for a while. Training more PNs and PSWs means that we can hopefully provide a bit of reprieve to the health-care team in the short-term; students can help with some of the workload during their placements,” she said. “Long-term, the School of Nursing and PSW team is helping to bridge the gap between human health resource supply and demand so that all of us, as consumers of health-care, can have confidence in the system and the care we receive.”
Current students are already making a difference in the community. Niagara Health alone takes hundreds of Practical Nursing students and currently has about 30 PSW students working clinical placements. In addition to hospitals, students are also being placed in long-term care facilities and community agencies.
“We recognize how difficult it is for many hospitals, community agencies and long-term care residents to take on students right now, with the additional pressures placed on health-care workers during the pandemic,” said Triemstra. “We sincerely thank Niagara Health and all of our partners who have really stepped up to the plate.”
The news about NC’s expanded enrolment was well received at Niagara Health.
“Nurses and Personal Support Workers are critical members of our interdisciplinary teams – the impact of their contributions in delivering extraordinary patient care is felt across Niagara Health,” said Heather Paterson, interim executive vice president of Clinical Services and chief nursing executive at Niagara Health. “We’ve been extremely impressed with the nursing and PSW graduates that we’ve recruited from Niagara College, and we appreciate that the College is expanding enrolment as we recover from the pandemic and move forward with our strategic initiatives and priorities.”
Triemstra noted that there is a high number of applications and applicants on waiting lists for the Practical Nursing program. “We’re hearing from students that are responding to the issues happening in the world,” she said. “They wanted to be a nurse and the pandemic may have solidified the decision.”
Rachel Grist, who began the first term of the Practical Nursing program this Fall, is one of them. “Nursing is a beautiful combination of art and science, and I want to be a part of that symphony of skills,” said Grist. “I wanted to work in health-care before the pandemic, but working through the whole pandemic as a PSW has shown me the incredible resiliency of the health-care profession, and I want to continue and grow in my ability to contribute, and I want to be able to do more for my patients.”
Grist aims to go into paediatric nursing following graduation, with the goal of helping Indigenous communities and increasing awareness of their needs. She feels a heightened sense of urgency and importance to being a Practical Nursing student during the pandemic. “Now, more than ever, there is a need for nurses. Pre-pandemic there was a shortage in the nursing world, and it’s just suspected to grow,” she said. “It puts a lot of pressure on me to graduate but I’m sure my fellow students and I will be able to get through it.”
The expansion of NC’s Practical Nursing program follows its previous introduction of a 20-week Personal Support Worker – Acceleratedprogram during the Spring term, which enables students to graduate with the same credentials as the College’s one-year Personal Support Worker graduate certificate program. Sponsored by the Province of Ontario to help fill the demand for more PSWs in response to the pandemic, government funding covered all the costs and paid placements for the program.
Triemstra noted that there has been a great response to the fully funded PSW program, with the number of applicants far exceeding the number of seats in the program. More than 140 students enrolled in the accelerated rapid-training PSW program, including both May and June intakes, while almost 60 are enrolled in the regular PSW stream this Fall.
Practical Nursing and Personal Support Worker students were among the first to return to campus following the March 2020 campus closure during the onset of the pandemic. They were the first to don gowns and masks and undergo inspections from public health officials during the summer of 2020, prior to more students returning last fall. Now PPE is part of campus life, as are mandatory vaccinations for all students.
Triemstra noted that Practical Nursing students not only learn about infectious disease control and prevention as part of the program, but also are required to practice what they are studying in the real world, in real time. Before they begin working their placements, all students also need to complete COVID-19 related modules as well as orientations required by their placement facilities which also includes information about COVID-19, screening, PPE and more.
“Our Practical Nursing students are so in tune with what they have to do from an infectious disease perspective,” said Triemstra. “With the measures in place to keep them safe on campus, they are well seasoned. When they go out into their placements, they know exactly what to do.”
This Fall term, the College also welcomed the College’s inaugural class of Massage Therapy students. The College introduced the three-year advanced diploma program to meet a growing demand for Massage Therapy professionals. Almost 30 students enrolled in Massage Therapy this fall and a new Massage Therapy lab opened at the Welland Campus to accommodate the new program in September.
Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit niagaracollege.ca.