FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The 12 students that make up the inaugural class of the Northern Baccalaureate Nursing Program are thrilled to be a part of Northern B.C. history.

The program is a partnership between Northern Lights College, University of Northern British Columbia, Northern Health and the Province to help recruit and retain nurses in the north.

Dr. Raelene Marceau is the program coordinator for the Northern Baccalaureate Nursing Program, and she says the timing couldn’t be better.

“This program was actually supposed to start last year, but because of COVID-19 they pushed it back a year,” said Marceau. “The program’s been in the works for, from what I’ve been told, 10 years. I think a lot of different community stakeholders, government partners and partners from Northern Health came together to make this happen. It’s a big deal in the north, particularly because of recruitment and retention of Registered Nurses.”

Of the 12 students blazing a new trail in nursing education in Fort St. John, five are local.

Heather Mcaleney was born and raised in Fort St. John, and she says she plans on staying.

“I have no intentions of leaving, and if I had my choice, I would go into pediatrics,” says Mcaleney. “We don’t have a full [pediatric] unit here, so maternity and delivery is kind of my alternative.”

Jacob Williams came all the way from Florida to take part in the Northern Baccalaureate program because it’s less expensive.

“It’s less expensive to drive to this country and get this education as well,” said Williams.

“I was working on a COVID-19 unit in Florida, and that’s what made me decide to move out of the U.S.”

Williams says there’s a distinct difference between the American healthcare system and the Canadian one.

“Here, you can work for the patient, instead of for the company or the insurance company.”

He says when he heard about the COVID-19 outbreak declared at the Fort St. John Hospital, he was surprised to find that it was around five cases.

“On the unit in Florida, I certainly had around 120 COVID-19 patients that were under my care.”

Marceau says prospective students had to fill out a suitability index form as part of their application so that the program could choose students that were most likely to stay in the region after their studies are finished.

Ashley Powell says she’s the guinea pig for her friends who are considering the program for next fall.

“My friends that are applying next year, they’ll get a little bit of an image into what my life has looked like in the past year by the time they started,” says Powell. “I was actually applying to the LPN program within months of the announcement of this program at Northern Lights. I would have had to travel to Dawson Creek from Monday to Friday for two years, so I was really happy that it’s here. We’re pretty fortunate in such a rural area.”

The students are about four weeks into classes, and they say the amount of reading is immense.

“This morning, assigned so far, including the full semester with Pathophysiology, we have 95 chapters so far.”