This past August, 30 new students from the Cree communities embarked on a four-year-long journey to become Chibougamau’s Cegep de St-Felicien first class of anglophone nurses in a program that is specifically geared towards graduating Cree students.
“One of the advantages is that because we are so close to the communities, it’s much easier for a lot of them to come to the college and at the same time stay in contact with their communities, their families and friends,” said Mireille Fortier, a pedagogical councilor from the program.
Though the program offered by the Ordre des infirmieres et infirmiers du Quebec usually runs only two years, St-Felicien’s program has been adapted as a four-year program so to accommodate both the educational and cultural needs of Cree students.
For those who require them, upgrading courses will be offered in conjunction with the regular nursing program for those who were not able to access them within their communities.
As this program was developed for those specifically coming from the Cree communities, taking into consideration that many of the students also have families, it works on a schedule unlike any other nursing program in the province. Students will be given time off in October, extended time at Christmas, a March break, Easter holidays, and time off for Goose Break and in the summers so that parents will be able to tend to their children when they are not in school.
With more time off, students who also have families will also be less inclined to become stressed out when it comes to the school life/home life conflict, explained Fortier. As St-Felicien is a smaller Cegep, it was easy for the school to make the accommodations.
“We are a whole team here giving them support. We want to make sure that all of the chances are on their side,” said Fortier.
The Ministry of Education, Cegep de St-Felicien, Cree Human Resources Development, Cree School Board, Cree Health Board and Emploi-Quebec all came together as partners to create this program as a means of addressing the Cree communities need to hire 100 new nurses.
The CHB will also help to coordinate field-work experience for these students in anglophone hospital settings and funding for students to attend the program will be made available through the CHRD and the CSB.
Students who graduate from the brand-new program will have two options upon graduation when it comes to practicing either within the communities or in the rest of the province as the standard French proficiency examination will be optional. Students who chose to take the proficiency course will be able to practice anywhere whereas those who do not will be legally licensed but only to practice within the Cree communities. Though the program is taught entirely in English, French courses will be available to all those interested.
Those who wish to enter the nursing program must have completed Secondary Five and have passed both physical science and chemistry.
According to Fortier, so far the program is going well and she was delighted to announce that amongst the 30 students registered, there are three male students.
“They might be the instigators to get more men into the program and we are really happy about it and proud of them,” said Fortier.
In that this program will not only help to provide its students with gainful long-term employment, address the community’s nursing shortage and allow for the Crees to care for their own people medically, Fortier could only describe this opportunity as a “dream come true!”
Though the website for this specific program is still under development, more information on Cegep de St-Felicien can be found at www.cstfelicien.qc.ca