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UNB cuts Bathurst nursing program

UNB’s Bathurst campus will flatline after 2017.

Last Monday the university informed nursing students in Bathurst that it was discontinuing the program after the class of 2017 graduates.

UNB’s Dean of Nursing Dr. Gail Storr said a big reason for scrapping the program was because there aren’t enough instructors in clinical placements to accommodate the number of enrolled students.

“It’s become increasingly difficult to secure [clinical] sites for the number of students we have,” Storr said, adding that having the Bathurst campus compete for open placements with NBCC or the Moncton campus “doesn’t necessarily line up in the best way with the curriculum and what the learning needs are.”

The yearly enrolment at Bathurst is capped at 26 students, but it’s been a struggle to reach the mark. Last year, only 14 students were accepted ­— there are 53 more students ranging from second to fourth year.

Another factor in the decision was that in negotiations with the regional health authority regarding student placements, a proposal was put forth in October that students be bilingual.

“They backed down on the bilingual aspect,” Storr said,” but the latest thing that we have for them is that they wanted our students to understand French.”

While Storr assured financial reasons were not at all part of why the program is being shut down, the Bathurst program “has never been financially self-sustaining.”

“I’m responsible for Fredericton, Moncton and Bathurst, and we’ve been subsidizing the costs to run Bathurst over a period of time,” Storr said.

While the university will certainly save money by discontinuing the Bathurst program, it’s unclear as to exactly how much.

Storr was unable to provide the operating costs of the Bathurst campus and was not prepared to discuss the finances surrounding it. A right to information request has been placed with the university secretariat for that information.

Susan Hebert started at the Bathurst campus in 1999 – she now works as the only administrator among a staff of six other faculty members – and said it was “shocking” when Dean Storr delivered the bad news the week before informing the students.

“It was unluck of the draw, I guess, that they decided to close Bathurst,” Hebert said. “The difference with nursing is that we have an instructor who can teach, say 30 students. But for those same 30 students we would need five clinical instructors.”

Part of the program includes a practicum placement in a clinical setting – like a hospital or clinic – but the instructors in the field can only teach up to seven students at one time.

Among the six other faculty members at the campus, two are on contracts while the others have tenure. Hebert said she’s unsure if the faculty will transfer to another campus, but said she’ll have to look for another job after they close the doors.

“It’s a bit of a worry but it happens,” Hebert said. “It will be very hard to find another job that is quite like this one. I love working with the students. It’s great. I’ve enjoyed it for 15 years and I’ll enjoy it for three more, then we’ll see where we go from there.”

But the underlying issue is the ripple effect this will have for students who may not be able to travel to the Moncton or Fredericton campuses.

UNBSU’s nursing representative Laura Carr said future nursing students in northern New Brunswick may not have as easy access to their education because of the logistics.

“I know a lot of the students are from Miramichi and they travel to Bathurst [for school],” Carr said. “So what chance do the people from the outskirts of Bathurst have to get a quality education? If I could stay in Miramichi with a low cost of rent and not have to move somewhere [like Fredericton], then awesome.”

Hebert shared the same sentiments.

“The thing I think that’s most sad about this is that we serve a neiche population,” Hebert said,”a population of transfer or mature students who, because of family commitments or whatever it may be, just don’t have the chance to travel to get an education. It’s a little sad that way.”

UPDATE, 5:09 a.m., Feb. 20: An earlier version of this story reported that Dr. Storr said a lack of instructors in the classrooms was a reason why UNB closed the campus, when in fact it was only a lack of instructors in clinical placements. The Brunswickan apologizes for the error.

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1 Comment

  1. JamesRisdon Reply

    There is currently effort being made by community leaders in Bathurst, including an MLA on the government side, to delay the decision to phase out the Bathurst campus. There’s an article to that effect on the NB Daily Star website.

    Other community leaders involved in this include Bathurst Mayor Stephen Brunet, Greater Bathurst Chamber of Commerce manager Mitch Poirier and Liberal Bathurst MLA Brian Kenny. (There is also a story on this on the NB Daily Star website). Finally, there is also an online petition to try to get this decision reversed. 

    Given all these efforts in northern New Brunswick to try to get this decision reversed, it may be premature to conclude that “UNB’s Bathurst campus will flatline after 2017”. 

    Certainly, that is what UNB has currently decided will happen. However, it certainly seems there’s a possibility of some kind of accomodation which could be made for the nursing program, especially given the public outcry over the decision.

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