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Assiniboia nurse practitioner reflects on 30-year health care career

Nurse Practitioners are a ready solution to many of Sask.'s health care challenges, says 20-year Assiniboia NP

ASSINIBOIA--Johanne Rust of Assiniboia who served as a nurse practitioner and the president of Saskatchewan Assosication of Nurse Practictioners reflects on her three-decade career in health care.

Rust grew up on a farm near Glentworth, graduating in Assiniboia. After getting married and working for a few years, she says she found her place in nursing and began working at the Assiniboia Long Term Care facility as a special care aid.

“I owe my career choice of nursing to my very wise and experienced mentors in that facility as some of my coworkers could see that, although there were very few jobs in nursing at that time, with current cutbacks in RN [registered nursing] education seats, there would eventually be a crisis without enough nurses.”

The Assiniboia NP is among a small group of NPs to be licensed for the first time in the province. The health professional is approaching her 20th year working as an AP, serving the communities of Rockglen, Willow Bunch and Coronach.

Rust says, “As our youngest of our three children was starting kindergarten, I started my nursing program in Regina. I could not have done this without my husband's help. Chuck looked after the kids, and continued to work to cover our expenses. One of the proudest achievements of my life was having my parents, my husband and my children attend my registered nurse graduation.“

It was not long after Rust entered the nursing workforce, she saw that not only was the province going to be short of nurses someday, there was also a real possibility that Saskatchewan would eventually face a shortage of doctors. This realization drove her to start in the NP program and she completed it just in time to join the first group of NPs in the province.

“Today, most nurse practitioners start by completing a four-year degree to become registered nurses. After the required years of experience, they complete a master's degree in an NP post graduate program.”

It takes 8-10 years of education and experience to become an NP. In Saskatchewan, most of our nurse practitioners work in primary care. Those NPs will see patients for physicals, prenatal care, refills of medications, suturing, procedures like joint injections, biopsies, cancer screening, emergency room coverage etc. 

“We are starting to see NPs being added to teams in hospitals, cancer care centres, walk-in clinics and many other areas where there is a gap in services. Nurse practitioners are a great solution to improving access to care. We are autonomous; meaning that we work under our own license and regulation and do not need to work for or under a doctor. This is especially important in areas where we do not have enough physicians. Nurse practitioners can independently manage most needs of their patients, and refer anything more complicated to specialists or doctors as appropriate.” 

Rust is currently the president of SANP, which hosts a yearly education conference for nurse practitioners. It is an advocacy organization and the only voice of NPs in the province. This is organized by its Education Committee and held during National Nurse Practitioner Week in November.

“It's a chance for us to continue our education, reacquaint with colleagues and support our upcoming NP students. Our agenda is packed with relevant topics and helps us keep on top of the latest research. We alternate the conference between Saskatoon and Regina. During this conference, we award our SANP Leadership Award to an NP who has demonstrated excellence in leadership by mentoring, innovation, change, or activism in NP practice. Congrats to this year's recipient, Barb Beaurivage (Regina), for her many dedicated years of NP work.”

Rust adds, “This year we were very honoured to present at the SARM Midterm Convention (Sask Association of Rural Municipalities). We spoke about the need to reinstate the Grow Your Own NP Program that was announced by the government in 2014. At this time, it is crucial that we employ or fully utilize all NPs, or we will lose this valuable group of professionals to other provinces like Alberta where the job opportunities and wages for NPs are much more attractive. Unfortunately, we still have more than 30 underutilized or unemployed NPs in this province, and 30 NPs could immediately provide care to approximately 36,000 patients. That is equal to the population of communities such as Moose Jaw, Lloydminster or Prince Albert. “

Working closely with the Ministry of Health, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and other organizations, SANP is working to improve access to healthcare services by looking at new ways to add NPs to existing teams, as well as exploring alternate ways of funding NP practices.

“SANP believes that health care is best delivered when every person is fully utilized and working to their full scope of practice,” says Rust.

Approaching retirement in a matter of months, Rust reflects on her contribution as an NP to thousands of patients over the years.

“Nurse practitioners are a ready solution to many of our health care challenges. I am so thankful for having been among a very exceptional group of NPs improving patient's lives. I wish all patients in this province could experience the incredible care given by an NP,” Rust says.