|February 18, 2000||Volume 7, Number 11|
Nursing professor crusades for her profession
By Sigrid Klaus
Susan Wagner, professor of nursing, says her profession doesnt get the respect it deserves.
"Can you imagine a government saying to doctors or engineers, Well just take a year off your program because were currently short of people in the field.?"
Her reference is to the provincial governments recent announcement that nurses could practise their profession after completing only three of the programs four years.
She says the profession has been telling government "for at least 10 years" that a nursing shortage was developing.
"Their response was to further decrease the number of student seats available."
She was pleased that, last fall, the government increased the quota for nursing students to 260 from 180 in first year.
"But I hasten to add that the College of Nursing still hasnt received funding for those 80 additional students, thereby putting their continued participation in the program in jeopardy."
She says a four-year baccalaureate degree is the minimum education nurses need in an ever more complex health care environment.
(In 1984, the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA), using its legislated authority, set the degree as the standard for entry into the profession.)
"Our students negative response to Pat Atkinsons recent decision indicates that they also believe that a degree is essential."
Moreover, she adds, this approach isnt going to create more nurses anyway.
"Output can only be related to input. You could take some students out early. But thats not going to increase the total number of graduates. At best, you get some nurses a few months early, since many of our students, by taking on a heavier workload, graduate after three and a half years."
Wagner has championed nurses issues ever since graduating as an RN in 1970. She was appointed to full-time faculty after she obtained a Master of Science degree, with a major in nursing, in 1984 the first student to do so at the U of S.
Shortly after that, the College began offering a masters program and 33 students are now enrolled in it.
But Wagner says theres a flaw in the success story.
"Graduate studies in Nursing has never received additional funding. We believe in it so strongly as a faculty that, for the last 16 years, weve dedicated the necessary time and budget toward running it."
With her specialty in chronic care and community health, shes particularly interested in how health care policy affects the quality of care. She has done practice with and research on home care programs across the country. Her contributions in this area, including a number of publications, led to her being appointed a charter member of the Saskatoon District Health Board, a position she was elected to in 1995.
In her eight years on the Board, she helped to design and implement an integrated health care delivery system in the Saskatoon district. As chairperson, she worked with organizations such as St. Pauls Hospital to enhance collaboration.
She has high praise for both Saskatchewans home care programs ("the best in the country") and the regional health boards for delivering health care.
"Regional governance is absolutely essential to provide a more rational allocation of health care dollars. In Saskatoon alone, the previous administrative duplication among the three hospitals was wasteful."
But she acknowledges that there still are challenges to be dealt with, such as deciding what services will be delivered to whom and where.
"We cant be all things to all people. For example, it makes no sense to offer a service to fewer than a dozen people. Boards and governments must decide which patients should be sent elsewhere, whether to a larger centre in the province or out of province. But because of political fall-out, such decisions are not always made."
On the whole, however, Wagner believes that the health delivery system is working and that Saskatchewans is one of the most efficient in the country.
"The challenges in the health care system should not all be blamed on health care reform. Problems today are similar to ones that existed 10 years ago, when people were also complaining about long waiting lists."
She says the key to the effectiveness of the emerging health care system is the education of nurses.
"Fifteen years ago, 80 per cent of all nurses worked in acute care. Now, because patients are spending less time in hospital, that number is close to 50 per cent. We now need nurses in the community, in home care programs, and in other local health services. Thats why the focus on the education of nurses has had to change."
She says the degree program here remains responsive to these changes, but it has come at a cost.
"Were a practice discipline, which means that our faculty need to be with students in small numbers, particularly in clinical areas. Our student contact hours are way over what exists in other Colleges.
"This orientation to students naturally affects the time we have for research and scholarly work. Nevertheless, Im proud to say that, as a faculty, weve maintained a high success rate in research funding at the provincial and national levels. Publication records are good, and two faculty have received national five-year research awards."
That successful record has been established against a backdrop thats less than state-of-the-art.
Wagner shakes her head at the peeling paint of Ellis Hall, its sadly out-of-date teaching theatre and three small classrooms, and faculty offices in two separate buildings.
"We still hold classes in the Physics and Arts Buildings, for example, which are quite a hike from Ellis Hall. And our College has to compete for classrooms in the Health Sciences Building.
"Nursing has been high on the capital planning list for the last 10 years, but Ill believe in a new building when I see it."
Meanwhile, the College has undertaken an innovative partnership with SIAST. Nurse educators at Kelsey and Wascana teach the first two years of the Nursing Education Program of Saskatchewan; and the College, Years 3 and 4. Because students may take their nursing degree in Regina, some U of S faculty go there at least once a week to teach.
"The University is very pleased with this innovation because it increases access to a BSN, but it is costly for us to run."
Despite her passion for health care issues and her profession, Wagner does find time for other activities.
She holds a black belt, no less, in Tae Kwon Do; is an avid gardener; and is in the process of building a second holiday home with her husband Neil, at Candle Lake.
"The first one we built was a beautiful log cabin. This one is our retirement home, which we hope to enjoy with friends and family for many years.
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