Grande Prairie’s nurse is continuing her education at home to be ‘part of the solution’ amid staff shortages

Chantelle Gray is completing her Masters in Nursing from Athabasca University while residing in Grande Prairie, Alta.  (Luke Ettinger/CBC - photo credit)

Chantelle Gray is completing her Masters in Nursing from Athabasca University while residing in Grande Prairie, Alta. (Luke Ettinger/CBC – photo credit)

A nurse from Grande Prairie, Alta., hopes to alleviate her job’s labor shortage by training at home.

Chantelle Gray has been a registered nurse in town for almost a decade. But she will soon have new credentials as she nears the end of her clinical internship at Grande Prairie to become a nursing practitioner through an online course at Athabasca University.

“I just started thinking about it seriously and saying, ‘Maybe you should be part of the solution to this problem,'” Gray said in an interview with CBC News.

The mother of two children, both under the age of three, continues her education in the city about 450 kilometers northwest of Edmonton.

“When I was thinking about starting my journey as a nurse, there was really no way I could ever give up at that point [everything] and just go to college in Edmonton.”



Alex Clark, the president of Athabasca University, said the online school is working with Alberta Health Services (AHS) to find more internship opportunities for nursing students across the province.

“That means as much as possible that they can complete their programs as close to where they live as possible,” Clark said in an interview with CBC.

He said the university is working with AHS on internships as far away as the town of High Level, 450 miles north of Edmonton. Clark said the new ways to complete clinical internships are part of overcoming the nursing shortage.

“One of the key elements of this initiative is transitions [licensed practical nurses] to be more qualified RNs to better meet the challenges of the nursing staff,” Clark said.

recruit and retain

AHS said in a statement that there are nursing education grants available from the Northern Alberta Development Council to recruit nurses in the area.

“The NADC grant program offers up to $12,000 over two years and is non-repayable if nurses agree to live and work in northern Alberta for a period of time,” said AHS spokeswoman Shelly Willsey.

United Nurses of Alberta, a union representing more than 30,000 nurses in the province, is also offering up to $10,000 to help nurses relocate to rural and remote communities.

Heather Smith, union leader, said she supports opportunities for nurses to increase their knowledge and credentials, but education is only part of the solution.

“We can expand seats. We can get more deals. But if we don’t have welcoming, supportive work environments for these men and women, they won’t stay,” Smith said in an interview.

Peter Evans/CBC

Peter Evans/CBC

Smith said governments, employers and unions must work together to transform jobs. She said this is particularly important for nurses in rural and remote settings who face their own challenges.

“The type of nursing that is performed in rural Alberta is quite unique,” Smith said. “It takes a unique level of support in terms of education to prepare them to feel safe and comfortable treating and meeting patients’ needs.”

AHS said a critical personnel task force was established to better understand recruitment and retention issues in the Central and Northern Zones.

“AHS is also working with government to build up our overall nursing workforce, including signing new collective agreements this year for RNs (UNA) and LPNs (AUPE),” Willsey said.

She said AHS is also working with admissions boards to streamline the process for internationally trained nurses and is working with post-secondary institutions and other programs to add new places.

For Gray, nursing is an affair of the heart, even amid the challenges of the profession.

“There’s nothing like … knowing that you’ve touched a person’s experience when they’re … really having a hard time or really struggling with something.”


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