Christie Barnhart, one of the 10 students in the practical nursing program is originally from Hazelton and has been living in Burns Lake for about 15 years. (Blair McBride photo)

Burns Lake’s new nursing program exceeds expectations

Half a year after it started, the new Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) program at the Burns Lake campus of the College of New Caledonia (CNC) is going smoothly.

It is the first LPN program to be offered in Burns Lake and is among only a few other LPN courses in northern British Columbia.

Ten students are currently studying in the two-year LPN course, down from the original 11 who began in September of last year. It initially had spots for 12 students.

LOOK BACK: Practical nursing program fills many needs

“Our attrition rate has been really good. The LPN programs usually have a lot…higher attrition rate than the Registered Nursing programs. The fact that we’ve managed to keep 10 of them going and that those 10 will probably make it all the way through is just excellent,” program instructor Dale Finch told Lakes District News.

Finch, who is the former head nurse at the Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre in Burns Lake, said he and others approached CNC almost three years ago about starting the course because of the shortage of nurses in the area.

“We were trying to find a way to grow nurses locally so they can stay locally. We knew that a number of our LPNs were going to be retiring in the next five to 10 years and it was getting harder and harder to replace those.”

Finch said the program’s first term from September to December went well despite there being a steep learning curve for the students and for himself as he’s relatively new at teaching this type of course.

“For most of [students] it’s been years since they were in school. It’s a big switch for the brain to get back into that learning mode again,” said Finch, who added that the youngest person in the program is 21 and the rest are mature students.

“Now that they’ve got past that, I think they have a good idea of what the expectations are and how you write a paper for example, or how you research for example, I think that’s become a little easier for them.”

The work load of the second term is heavier and will probably prove to be the hardest one, Finch said.

Until spring 2020 when the program wraps up the students will take two more academic terms and practicums in clinical placements, which could be at Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre, The Pines and possibly the Southside Health Centre and the Houston Health Centre.

Graduates from the LPN course are expected to be sought by the new graduate program of Northern Health, which connects them with recruiters to do pre-screening for skills and community preferences.

“It ensures a good fit about positions that will open,” said Northern Health spokeswoman Eryn Collins.

“They pre-screened 135 candidates in the new grad process of pre-screening. [Of them] 112 candidates were hired into Northern Health in 2018. Sixty-seven were in the northern interior and the rest were evenly split between the northwest and northeast,” she explained.

Student Christie Barnhart said she has been looking forward to joining the new program for years and enjoys it despite some technical issues.

“A lot of our power points and classes come from a program called Moodle. Sometimes the powerpoints aren’t right. This term our instructors have been going through Moodle and changing it,” said Barnhart, who is originally from Hazelton and has been living in Burns Lake for about 15 years.

Most of the instruction takes place at the CNC campus and laboratory procedures that aren’t available there are conducted at the hospital in Burns Lake, she said.

After Barnhart graduates she wants to work in Burns Lake for a while and then ideally go into surgical nursing, which is available in Prince George.

“I was told by several nurses that working in a smaller facility…you still get a more well-rounded education. You get put into all the departments that we have here. Rather than, if I started in Prince George I would strictly be working in [one] department.”

Barnhart hopes this is just the start for Burns Lake’s only LPN program.

with files from Rod Link

Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
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