June Natomagan earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree this year while studying at home in La Ronge.

USask program opens doors for nursing student

June Natomagan will be forever grateful for the opportunity that the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) College of Nursing provided her.

By Kylie Kelso

“If the nursing program wasn’t offered in La Ronge, I wouldn’t have just completed my degree and be only weeks away from becoming a registered nurse,” said Natomagan, a fourth-year USask student set to graduate this spring from the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program.

June Natomagan

Natomagan, who had just had a baby when she applied to the USask nursing program, is one of the latest in a growing list of nursing students who have made the most of a program tailor-made for their needs.

“Without the offering in northern Saskatchewan, I would have never been able to become a nurse, as the location was the deciding factor for me.”

USask’s College of Nursing was aware of the growing concern surrounding a shortage of registered nurses in rural and remote areas throughout Saskatchewan. As a solution, the college started offering its BSN program in both La Ronge and Île-à-la-Crosse in 2012 and in Yorkton in 2014. Since then, 38 students have completed their program in northern Saskatchewan and 29 in Yorkton. That’s 67 students in those communities who may not have had the ability to pursue nursing as a career if the distributed education program didn’t exist.

“The College of Nursing strongly believes that post-secondary education should not be restricted by geography,” said former interim dean Dr. Lois Berry (PhD). “If we only offer our program in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert, then we are missing out on educating highly talented individuals who, if given a chance to take nursing, can and will make a huge difference in the health-care system in all regions of the province. If we offer our program in rural and remote locations, such as La Ronge, Île-à-la-Crosse and Yorkton, the probability of the graduates staying and working as registered nurses in those rural and remote locations is very high.”

The distributed nursing education program in La Ronge is dependent upon a strong partnership with Northlands College. Natomagan credits her ability to complete the program to the people at both USask College of Nursing and Northlands College.

“I truly owe my success to the staff and my nursing classmates at Northlands,” Natomagan said. “Without their continued support and encouragement, I would not have completed the program. I would like to thank the faculty who went above and beyond to help shape me into the best nurse I could possibly be. I will carry their wise words of wisdom wherever I go.”

“As a new mother and someone just starting nursing school, I needed my family around for support,” Natomagan said. “What I didn’t know is that my classmates would also become like family. The best part of taking nursing in La Ronge was the small class size. I was fortunate to have been part of a family and not identified as just another one of many students. I had access to lots of resources and an abundance of support. If I had taken my program somewhere other than La Ronge, I don’t believe I would have succeeded.”

“The nursing program was highly recommended from my family and friends. I’m not going to lie, this program was hard! But if you have the passion to be a nurse and the commitment, drive and dedication, then I absolutely recommend the USask BSN program in La Ronge.”

The COVID-19 global pandemic has put the dedication and need for nurses in the spotlight now more than ever, as Canada celebrates National Nursing Week May 11-17 and International Nurses Day on May 12.

For her part, Natomagan can’t wait to join the front lines of health care.

“I have always been a caring, compassionate person and was taught from a young age to treat others with respect,” she said. “I wanted a profession that would give me the opportunity to demonstrate these characteristics. One day I found myself in a situation where I felt an overwhelming need to give back to my community and the next day, I literally woke up and said, ‘I’m going to be a nurse!’ If it wasn’t for the University of Saskatchewan College of Nursing program in La Ronge, I wouldn’t be starting on the career path best-suited for me. I can’t wait to be become a registered nurse.”