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NLC in the news: Northern Lights College seeking to expand healthcare programs

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Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative
Prince George Citizen

Representatives from Northern Lights College met with the Peace River Regional District at their Jan. 11 board meeting, presenting ‘NLC Cares’, their contribution to the Allied Healthcare Strategy, a provincial initiative geared at providing healthcare training and education opportunities across B.C. 

The strategy aims to support 70 different healthcare disciplines, with 75,000 individuals already working preventative, diagnostic, clinical support, and technical services. 

NLC President Todd Bondaroff said the college remains committed to creating healthcare capacity for the region. 

“Northern Lights College has been providing post-secondary education to the people of Northern B.C. and beyond for almost 50 years now,” he said, noting the PRRD has been their partner on a number of projects and initiatives. 

The college hopes to launch three new health programs by 2027, and another two by 2028, in anticipation of the new Dawson Creek hospital opening. NLC is also seeking $150,000 annually in grant funding over the next three years to support development of their programs. 

There are 57 actions in the allied strategy to begin addressing issues with the healthcare systems, and $15 million was committed by the province over three years to fund training bursaries for priority programs. 

UNBC’s Northern Baccalaureate Nursing Program is also offered in both Fort St. John and Prince George, and was strongly advocated for by the PRRD. 

“One of our major jobs that this board does is advocating for the services that we need,” said PRRD Chair Brad Sperling. 

Associate Dean of Health Sciences, Nicole Dahlen, accompanied Bondaroff, and provided some insights from her previous career of 21 years with Northern Health as a regional pharmacist, palliative program lead, and director of care. 

Most people attending the college are local, and the majority of students often find jobs through their practicum placements, providing healthcare staff for the communities they live in, explained Dahlen. 

“Really, it is about making sure that the students that attend our programs find gainful employment after, and also about enriching the lives in the communities in northern BC,” she said. 

Intakes for health care aids have already seen an increase at the college, moving from one intake a year with 16 student, to four intakes a year with 24 students.

A 16-month bridge program was created last year, upgrading experienced health care aids to practical nurses. There’s been an overall increase in enrolment in health science programs, with 168 seats across all programs offered annually, Dahlen noted. 

“We’ve hired on some phenomenal instructors that really inspire and excite the students about being in the healthcare system,” she added, with word of mouth being a valuable recruitment tool. 

Despite their commitment to job training, Dahlen acknowledged the healthcare system is currently short-staffed, including emergency units, cancer care, maternity wards, leading to closures which push Peace residents to travel outside the community for care. 

Lab tech, x-rays, pharmacists, operation room cleaners, and more are critical to keeping hospitals and services running, she added, noting that the needs go beyond the decade-long shortage of nurses and physicians. 

“I strongly believe that the way we’re going to turn the dial in the northeast, is by having options for local people to do their training local, that’s what’s going to keep them here,” said Dahlen. “We probably won’t ever be that college that draws people up from the Sunshine Coast to take their programs here.” 

Originally published in the Prince George Citizen.