Saskatchewan government forgiving nursing student loans

REGINA – The Provincial Government has announced it will forgive nurse’s student loans up to $20,000 if they go work in rural communities.

A quality nursing education these days doesn’t come cheap.

First year Practical Nursing Student at SIAST, Devon Stelwagen, says his debt load is piling up.

“I would guess almost $10,000 by the time it’s all said and done,” he said.

The province will forgive up to four thousand dollars of loans per year, if they practice in a community with a population of less than 10,000 people.

For Stelwagen it’s tempting, but he’d be giving up a lot.

“For me to go and live in a small town, my family is not there, my friends aren’t there and there’s nothing to do if I want to go out one night,” said Stelwagen.

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But for students from rural communities, they feel like they’ve won the lottery.

First year Practical Nursing student, Nicole Bellerose was already planning on moving back to her rural hometown when she graduates.

“That appeals to us,” she said. “That’s what’s important to us. A small town offers a sense of community and just a safety factor.”

But recruiters don’t always get the best feedback when they place grads in rural settings.

Lorna Breitkrauz, Director of Client Services at All Nations Healing Hospital, says rural nurses need to understand a variety of health care specialties.

“So as a result it can be very overwhelming with the amount of knowledge they need to practice in that setting,” she said.

“In Regina, there are nurses everywhere,” said Stelwagen. “There’s people to help you. But out there is definitely going to be a different experience.”

Breitkrauz says she’s had success with new grads when they provide a mentor.

The Government says they’re working with educational facilities to make sure these mentorships are more widely used, and they don’t leave the new nurses flying solo.

“It’s not just the safety of the grad, but the safety of the patients they’re working with as well,” said Advanced Education Minister Don Morgan. “We either want to have them tied to somebody either at the educational institution or somebody within the Regional Health Authority.”

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The continued guidance could help make it a little less scary for students like Setlwagen, who could be convinced to move if it means an extra $20,000 in his pocket.

“I think that if something comes up that it works for me, I would do it,” he said.

The loan forgiveness program is retro-active for the past year. Applications are now available on the government’s website.

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