WESTERN PRODUCER — A survey of members of the Saskatchewan Association of Nurse Practitioners has found that many are either unemployed or under-employed.
President Tara Schmalenberg said students studying to become nurse practitioners are worried about their ability to find work.
The sentiments come even after the provincial government has acknowledged the role nurse practitioners, who are registered nurses with advanced education and experience, could play in primary care.
“They’ve come out in the past and announced some really awesome recruitment and retention initiatives and then have never followed through on them — the Grow Your Own program that was announced back in 2014-15, their primary health-care strategy that was announced around the same time — and then it’s just never come to fruition,” said Schmalenberg.
Access to primary health care is a problem in both rural and urban settings. At one point this summer SaskJobs had openings for 50 family physicians in Regina and Saskatoon.
Schmalenberg said her job is split between Raymore and Lestock, but she sees patients from farther away at those clinics.
“I’ve seen people from Wishart, Ituna, Kelliher, Melville, Lipton, Dysart, Cupar,” she said. “It seems bizarre to me that I had a mom once bring her kid all the way from Ituna to see me in Raymore, because that’s where I was that day, to check on her sick baby.”
That is a distance of about 86 kilometres.
Changing how nurse practitioners are paid could improve their employment prospects and primary care delivery for patients.
Nurse practitioners are currently hired by the Saskatchewan Health Authority into unionized positions. They can’t establish their own clinics unless patients are prepared to pay out of pocket for their services. And family physicians often can’t afford to hire nurse practitioners because they are paid on a fee-for-service model; they’d have to pay the practitioner out of pocket.
Schmalenberg said allowing nurse practitioners to be contracted employees of the government would mean more access to the primary care they can provide.
“Seven hundred to 1,000 patients could easily be attached to that nurse practitioner as their primary care provider,” she said.
Before the pandemic, 17 percent of Saskatchewan residents did not have a primary care provider and the problem is worsening.
“We know there is a body of nurse practitioners that are immediately available to step in and help fill that gap. We have some tomorrow that could step up their roles.”
The survey conducted in May and June contacted 320 practicing NPs and students. Of the 124 respondents, 35 percent were working part-time and wanted to be full-time, while 9.6 percent weren’t working as NPs at all because there were no jobs within their communities.
The SANP has recommended the government review the Grow Your Own program, increase opportunities for NPs in urban primary health-care settings and acute care, and develop with SHA and SANP resources to increase knowledge about what NPs can do.
There are two Master NP programs in the province, one through the University of Saskatchewan and another through a partnership between the University of Regina and Saskatchewan Polytechnic. The two programs have provincial funding for 50 seats and the government announced 10 more seats for this fall.