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Rural service gets tuition

Province offers nurse-practitioner students a deal

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GO rural or north and get $10,000 to cover tuition, the province is telling nurse-practitioner students.

The provincial government announced Tuesday the funding is available to nurse practitioners provided they spend at least a year after graduating practising in a rural or northern location.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with a master's level of education and clinical experience. They are independent of doctors and allowed to diagnose illnesses, treat conditions, prescribe medication and order diagnostic tests.

"There's a need across rural Manitoba for more nurse practitioners. We know that we could increase our supply virtually everywhere in Manitoba," Health Minister Theresa Oswald said. "While we are in a heated debate right now about making a decision to continue to invest, I know that we're on the right path, and Manitobans tell us so. We want to offer more opportunities to expand to nurse practitioners."

Candice Stonebridge, a nurse-practitioner student in her final year at the University of Manitoba, is working as a clinic assistant this summer at a hospital in Gillam, 300 kilometres northeast of Thompson. Stonebridge hopes to work in Gillam once she graduates next year.

She said working in rural areas is different than working in the city.

"In bigger cities, everyone has their own job; they don't branch out. Here, they have to do it all," she said. "Whether it's in your field or not, you do everything. There's always more work to be done."

Gillam Hospital sees from 11 to 15 patients a day. Stonebridge said it has been looking to hire a nurse practitioner for the past three years but hasn't found anyone to fill the position.

"There's one doctor here that works 24/7, so giving him some time off would probably be nice," she said.

More than 100 nurse practitioners work in health-care facilities across the province, including hospitals, QuickCare clinics, primary-care clinics and personal-care homes.

The province is budgeting $80,000 for eight graduates to take part in the grant program, and health authorities will be doing assessments for communities with the highest needs. Applications for the new grants will be available starting this fall at the University of Manitoba.

"The essence of a nurse-practitioner role takes the best of nursing and the best of medicine and combines it into this role. Medicine often deals with illness and disease, and nursing deals with the prevention of it," said Sandra Christie, president of the Nurse Practitioners Association of Manitoba. "When you take both of those and combine it into one, it helps optimize a patient's health concern and then prevents the next issue from happening."

In rural areas, nurse practitioners lower costs of transportation to bigger cities when a person seeks medical attention and fill the void when doctors aren't available.

"Oftentimes, doctors are working in more than one town, so nurse practitioners take care of direct health needs," said Doug Dobrowolski, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities. "It's important to have someone capable of performing services while the doctors are out. There aren't enough doctors to go around."

Last year, Manitoba saw its nursing workforce grow by 387 nurses and nurse practitioners, bringing the total to 17,652 across the province this year.

elizabeth.fraser@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2013 A3

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Updated on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 6:59 AM CDT: replaces photo

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