Dec. 8, 2022

New rural nursing program in Wainwright allows mother of 12 to pursue career while living in home community

Gaeleen Ratté among first cohort in pilot program of UCalgary Nursing's Rural Community Route in Wainwright
Galeen Ratte (right) with daughter Chantal, who's also in the second group of Wainwright nursing students.
Gaeleen Ratté, right, with daughter Chantal, who's also in the second group of Wainwright nursing students. Madeline Ratté

Finances, family and accessibility to classes were all reasons Gaeleen Ratté needed to consider when it came to developing a career in health. During the pandemic, her positive experience in a health-care aid program offered in Wainwright by Medicine Hat College convinced Ratte she had both a passion and a gift for health care. With the launch of UCalgary Nursing’s Rural Community Route for a Bachelor of Nursing degree in Wainwright, accessibility was the first obstacle out of the way.  

“With the theory possible to complete online from home, I decided to apply and see if it would be a good fit for me,” says the mother of 12, including nine dependents, who has lived in the Wainwright area for 17 years. She had looked at licensed practical nurse programs previously and while some components were online, the practicums were in Edmonton, a two-hour drive from the city — not manageable under her circumstances. “My drive to Wainwright is about 35 minutes in the best road conditions, so working online from home rather than driving to meet in a classroom eliminated any need for travel on winter highways.”  

In partnership with UCalgary Nursing and Alberta Health Services, Alberta’s government officially recognized the expansion of rural nursing education with a celebratory event on Dec. 7 in Wainwright, the site of the pilot program launched in September 2021. Ratté was in the first cohort of eight students experiencing a first-year hybrid learning and virtual course delivery model. The program allows those interested in a career in nursing to continue living in their own community while they study and work.  

“The first year of studies was an adjustment,” admits Ratté, but adds studying from home significantly reduced several stressors, including home schooling her children.

The ability to learn during the quiet hours in my house was invaluable — if I couldn’t sleep at 3 a.m., I could access lectures — as I was available for my children when they needed me but could still fit in my studies when it worked best for me. 

“We are thrilled to partner with AHS and the Wainwright community on this initiative to develop and enhance our rural nursing workforce,” says Dr. Sandra Davidson, RN, PhD, dean of UCalgary Nursing.

“Through this new Rural Community Route, students in rural communities will be able to complete their Bachelor of Nursing degree without relocating to Calgary. That reduces geographic barriers to nursing education of potential students who reside outside main centres.” The hope is that, when they graduate, the new RNs will consider a health-care career in Wainwright. 

That is certainly a goal for Ratté, who hopes to work in the area at least until all of her children are grown. “I think this is a fantastic program and much needed in rural Alberta,” she says, adding that her daughter is now in the second group of Wainwright nursing students: eight were admitted this past September. 

Finances are still a challenge; while Ratté benefitted from student grants and received the Dr. White bursary from the Wainwright and District Community Health Foundation, her daughter did not qualify for funding, something UCalgary Nursing is working to address.  

“I believe there are many people like myself who are interested in becoming a nurse but due to family commitments, financial prohibitions, or other responsibilities, cannot travel to or stay in cities for the education they desire,” Ratté says. “Providing a rural nursing program gives people who already live rurally — and understand both the challenges and benefits of this lifestyle — the opportunity to further educate themselves and give back to their communities.” 

Davidson says there are many other Alberta locations now interested in programs of their own. “We are starting in Wainwright, but we hope to expand this option to other rural locations in the future.” Indeed, plans are currently being solidified for a 28-month program at Lac La Biche-based Portage College, beginning January 2023, for students with prior post-secondary education.