A new federal program to forgive a portion of Canada Student Loan debt incurred by family doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners will benefit those who work in rural communities.
Bachelor of nursing student Nicky Patrick, 23, of Red Deer, said it will also benefit rural community residents and encourage people to go into rural health care and stick with it.
“I think it will possibly decrease the rural nursing shortage. I think it’s a great idea,” said Patrick, president of RDC Nursing Society, on Thursday.
Working in rural areas give nurses a wider scope of practice and competence, she said.
Through the program, those who began working in a designated community on or after April 1, 2012, will be eligible to apply for partial student loan forgiveness.
Most communities with a population of 50,000 or less, including communities that provide health services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis, would qualify as a rural community.
Family doctors and residents in family medicine will be eligible to receive up to $8,000 per year in Canada Student Loan forgiveness to a maximum of $40,000 over five years.
Nurses and nurse practitioners will be eligible to receive up to $4,000 per year to a maximum of $20,000 over five years.
Eligible doctors or nurses must be employed full-time, part-time or casual for a year in a designated rural or remote community and worked for a minimum of 400 hours, or 50 days, in that community to qualify.
Maureen Matejka, chairperson of nursing programs at Red Deer College, said RDC students will benefit.
“I think it’s really good for our students because our students are really prepared to work in the rural area because they have a lot of their practicums in the rural area,” Matejka said.
RDC students may practise in communities around Central Alberta like Rocky Mountain House, Ponoka, Lacombe, Innisfail, Olds and Rimbey.
Students in RDC’s bachelor of nursing program spend three years at RDC before completing their fourth year with University of Alberta.
At RDC, it costs students about $6,500 a year for tuition, fees and books.
RDC has about 400 students in its four-year nursing program.
RDC also has a two-year practical nursing program.
Partial loan forgiveness for family doctors and nurses will only apply to the federal student loan portion of Canada Student Loan.
More information is available at www.actionplan.gc.ca.
Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen said health care is a provincial responsibility, but the loan forgiveness program is how the federal government felt it could contribute.
“It’s an opportunity and a recognition of the commitment that (health-care professionals) are putting into something that is needed for some of these less-serviced areas,” Dreeshen said.