Both the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities and the Opposition NDP are chiming in on health care staff shortages in rural Saskatchewan, leading to what they say is a health crisis. A SARM release advocates activating qualified nurse practitioners (NPs) already in the province, along with a call to reinstate the “Grow Your Own Nurse Practitioner Program.” 

The call comes with the endorsement of the Saskatchewan Association of Nurse Practitioners (SANP). 

“SANP believes we need to reinstate the Grow Your Own Nurse Practitioner 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. 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,” says Johanne Rust, Nurse Practitioner and President of SANP. 

On the heels of an NDP release showing Canadian Institute of Health Information on the loss of rural doctors in the province, SANP sees the deployed of more NPs as a viable solution. The SARM release states that many nurse practitioners are already living in rural and northern communities. They are a valuable personnel resource given that they can work independently in consultation with physicians.  

“We are starting to see Nurse Practitioners being added to teams in hospitals, cancer care centers, 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 license and regulations and can work in many clinical areas with minimal supervision. Nurse Practitioners can effectively manage most needs of their patients and refer anything more complicated to specialists or doctors as appropriate,” shares Rust. 

The SARM release notes that Saskatchewan is underutilizing trained NPs. As of April 2023, there were 328 NPs, and of those, 10% are unemployed and continue to work as registered nurses. 

“Healthcare workers who grew up here are most likely to stay here. A Grow Your Own strategy is just common sense,” said Official Opposition Leader Carla Beck in an NDP statement on the matter. “This Premier has taken rural Saskatchewan for granted and I think a lot of people are ready for a change.” 

“We need to see our government make some changes to make it easier for our Nurse Practitioners who live here in Saskatchewan to work where they live. Instead of recruiting, we must grow our own, right here at home. We need more positions for our currently licensed Nurse Practitioners, who are underutilized, and we must reinstate the 2014 Rural and Remote Nurse Practitioner Recruitment Strategy. The government needs to consider incentives for Nurse Practitioners in the form of contributions towards relocation expenses and potential bonuses for hard-to-fill positions,” says Ray Orb, President of SARM. 

Orb said discussion on the matter would continue at the March 14 bearpit session with the government slated during SARM’s annual convention.