Tuition reduced substantially for Practical Nurse Refresher Program

The Open Learning Agency has slashed costs for this program in half

Two vital education programs in health care have just been made more affordable, thanks in part to input from Hospital Employees’ Union. Last week, the Open Learning Agency (OLA) Board of Directors decided to lower tuition for two of its programs: the Practical Nurse Refresher Program and the Home Support Worker Program. Both of these programs have until now been paid for almost entirely by students, sometimes with financial support from the Health Care Labour Adjustment Agency or the Healthcare Scholarship Fund. The OLA decision to subsidize these programs will be a major benefit to both students and the health care system.

The Open Learning Agency offers the PN Refresher and Home Support Worker programs through distance education to students and workers throughout the province. Tuition for the Practical Nurse Refresher Program, effective immediately, will be reduced by about half. Before this week, the fees were approximately $2,200 for the basic program and another $1400 for obstetrics and maternity courses. Now those same programs will cost in the range of $1400 for the basic program and an additional $400 for the obstetrics and maternity components.

The need for lower tuition for the PN Refresher had been raised as a priority by the HEU Nursing Team Committee. At Nursing Team conferences and forums and in other venues, members had identified the fees as a significant barrier to their continuing education and career options. For many, this barrier threatened to narrow their job opportunities substantially; for some, it put their LPN license on the line. Hearing this need, the HEU urged the Open Learning Agency to make this program more affordable.

A number of developments have made the PN Refresher program vital in recent months, and upcoming changes promise to increase demand yet further. Developments in professional regulation - including the elimination in 2004 of the “conditional” and “limited” LPN license categories, continuing competency requirements, and anticipated changes in nursing scope of practice - combine with trends in the utilization of LPNs to make the refresher courses a sought- after program.

Most of the candidates for the PN Refresher program are women with family responsibilities, often as single parents. Many work part-time and earn modest wages either in the health care sector or other fields.

If they work in privately funded or non-union agencies, or if they work as casuals, they are likely not eligible for funding from the Healthcare Labour Adjustment Agency or Healthcare Scholarship Fund. For these workers, a reduced tuition will help them maintain or regain their license and work in the nursing profession.

More affordable tuition is also a boost to the health care system. At a time of nursing shortages and changing needs in both facilities and home care, both the PN Refresher and the Home Support Worker programs are key resources.

HEU will continue working with the Health Care Labour Adjustment Agency, the College of LPNs, educators, government and employers to make sure that practical nurses and other Nursing Team members have the continuing education they need to practice to their full potential.