Clayton joined the health care sector during the pandemic, after being laid off from the restaurant industry.
“I was interested in getting into nursing for a decade before I finally made it to where I am now,” she said. “However, I chose and completed the Health Care Assistant (HCA) program through NIC because there was financial assistance available, and I thought it was a great opportunity to gain experience and work—a stepping stone to a nursing career.”
In 2022, the provincial government announced an Access to Practical Nursing Pathway program, allowing health care aides to earn a Practical Nursing diploma in under 16 months. The Province also announced that students were also able to apply for a $10,000 access to practical nursing bursary.
“Our government is focused on creating opportunities for health care aides to build new skills and begin new in-demand careers in health care,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills. “The $10,000 bursary will help cover tuition and fees, while ensuring that graduates join B.C.’s health care system after completing the program.”
The 2022 BC Labour Market Outlook predicts Vancouver Island and the Coast will need 4,320 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses by 2032, more than any other occupation in the region. In addition, the region will need 4,130 nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates, and 1,100 licensed practical nurses in the next decade.
Clayton was part of the second group of Health Care Assistants at NIC to register for the program. Her program started in November 2022 and will run on a two-year cycle, with the next group slated for November 2024.
In 2022, the Province also announced it would add more than 600 new nursing seats in post-secondary institutions. For NIC, pathways program had been offered before, but only as funding was available, so the announcement means more program continuity.
The expansion included support for HCAs to become practical nurses and practical nurses to become registered nurses. At NIC, that means a new group of practical nurses will be able to start their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree every three years. The popular pathway supports the wider community need for more nurses and allows them the flexibility to study, stay close to family and keep working on the North Island.
“The big thing with ‘laddering’ in your career is it’s a transition of roles,” said Jan Meiers, Associate Dean, Health & Human Services at NIC. “We want to make sure people are well-prepared to provide safe care in the busy health care setting.”
One aim of the program is to acknowledge the training people have acquired to date.
“We honour and give recognition to the education and practice that they’ve had already,” said Meiers.
To support working students, students are provided with options: some educational components are spread out gradually over the length of the year, and other courses might be concentrated over a few weeks. As a result, pathway students often study on different schedules, keeping health care assistants and nurses working at “bedsides,” at a time when there is a high demand for people in the field.
“You want to invest in your workforce and the talent you have,” said Tricia Sinclair, Site Director for North Island Hospitals in the Comox Valley and Campbell River.
She understands for many employees, leaving to go back to school full time can be a burden to family finances and time management, so the pathway approach allows people to work while furthering their education—which means more career opportunities.
“Some people would not have this opportunity otherwise,” Sinclair said.
For Clayton, while she hopes to work as a practical nurse for a few years, further advancement toward a BSN is something she is definitely considering.
“I think knowing that there is room for advancement to BSN is encouraging,” she said. “Knowing the option to go further with my education is inspiring and something in the back of my mind.”
Anyone interested is encouraged to start looking into the prerequisites to be ready to apply for the next cohort. They can get more details about the HCA, Practical Nursing and BSN programs at the NIC Health and Humans Services webpages: www.nic.bc.ca/health.