OTTAWA, March 13, 2015 /CNW/ - Aboriginal nurses play a critical role in improving health and wellness in Aboriginal communities. Yet, despite improvements in the past 15 years, the number of Aboriginal registered nurses is still significantly below proportional representation. A new Conference Board of Canada report for The Saskatchewan Institute outlines the benefits of increasing the number of Aboriginal nurses and highlights new and innovative approaches of delivering nursing education programs to rural and remote locations to ensure accessibility.
- Northern and Aboriginal health care would benefit from an increase in the number of Aboriginal health practitioners, in particular nurses, who make up the largest cohort of health professionals in Aboriginal communities.
- Aboriginal nurses play a critical role in improving health and wellness in Northern and Aboriginal communities.
- Training nurses in rural and remote areas has proven problematic but new technologies are making delivery of high-quality nursing programs in Northern locations more feasible.
"Saskatchewan received a "D" grade and ranked 24th out of 29 regions on the latest health report card from The Conference Board of Canada's How Canada Performs project. Poor health outcomes among Aboriginal populations was cited as a contributing factor to Saskatchewan's health performance," said Roger Francis, Director, Saskatchewan Institute. "One of the best ways to improve the quality of care and health outcomes for Northern and Aboriginal communities is to strengthen the number of Aboriginal health professionals, and in particular nurses, who form the largest category of health care provider in these regions."
Registered nurses are the single-largest health professional group in Canada and they are essential elements of the workforce in Northern communities and First Nation health centres, where they deliver primary care and are central to the prevention and management of chronic diseases. The report, Healthy Foundations: Nursing's Role in Building Strong Aboriginal Communities, finds that increasing the number of Aboriginal nurses would have positive impacts in a number of areas, including:
- improving access and continuity of care;
- reducing nursing turnover rates in Northern and Aboriginal communities;
- reducing the costs involved in attracting and retaining outside nursing professionals;
- improving the health and well-being of workers and communities;
- attracting and retaining workers, families, and businesses;
- spurring economic development through a better educated and well-paid local workforce (as the health sector is typically the second-largest employer in rural and remote areas); and
- improving community self-sufficiency and self-determination.
"There is broad consensus from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, all levels of government, and the health regions, that we need to have more Aboriginal nurses if we want to improve the health outcomes of Aboriginal peoples in Canada and make the health care system more representative of the clientele it serves," stated co-author and Dean of the University of Saskatchewan College of Nursing, Dr. Lorna Butler. "This requires educational institutions to think more creatively about how they can offer quality programming that is accessible in areas where the need for more Aboriginal nurses is greatest.
However, training nurses in rural and remote areas has proven problematic. The health sciences rely heavily on the teaching and practicing of clinical skills, which require labs, small group instruction, clinical practice sites, and hands-on learning. This often makes small, community-based programs both expensive and impractical in these communities. New technologies are making the delivery of nursing education programs more feasible in rural and remote settings.
The University of Saskatchewan has used a variety of technologies, including remote presence robotics, to offer a full baccalaureate nursing program to Northern communities. These new technologies have been well-received by both students and faculty. Challenges still remain including the expense of implementing a nursing program, technological difficulties, accessing support from off-site campus services, faculty engagement, and recruiting qualified students.
The Saskatchewan Institute, is a research initiative of The Conference Board of Canada that focuses on issues relevant to Saskatchewan. The publication is available at www.e-library.ca.
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