May 29, 2019

Nursing's thriving partnership with Medicine Hat College produces stellar registered nurses

UCalgary Across Alberta: Collaboration allows students to stay in their community
University of Calgary alumnus Ben Northcott, who teaches at Lethbridge College, aims to combine nursing education with international humanitarian experiences. He and his wife, Sara, and their children, from left: Caleb, Abigail (top), Rebekah and Elijah, live in Lethbridge. Photos courtesy Ben Northcott
University of Calgary alumnus Ben Northcott, who teaches at Lethbridge College, aims to combine nurs

Nurse educator Benjamin Northcott, BSc’03, BN’09, knows all about the benefits of a big city education in a smaller centre. He is one of almost 900 University of Calgary Bachelor of Nursing graduates who completed his entire degree through nursing’s collaborative program with Medicine Hat College (MHC) and now teaches for a similar program at Lethbridge College.

“I think this kind of program allows students to transition from high school into post-secondary in a more gradual and less threatening way,” he says now, adding that classes are smaller and students may, as a result, be better supported through their transition from dependence to becoming a more self-directed learner. Northcott is pictured above with his family.


A UCalgary degree holder already, Northcott chose MHC for nursing because of family in the area, but also because he knew it would be more personal: “I knew the difference it makes to have smaller, more intimate classes and better relationships with instructors and faculty.”  He completed a Master of Nursing degree from Athabasca University in 2017.

Nursing students can complete entire degree in Medicine Hat

Recognizing the demand for more accessible baccalaureate programs in the 1990s, many UCalgary faculties began expanding to serve students outside Calgary. In 1999, UCalgary Nursing established an agreement with MHC to deliver post-diploma education on site and, in the fall of 2002, the partnership evolved to a four-year Bachelor of Nursing program with all courses held on the Medicine Hat campus.

Students are MHC students for the first two years and then apply and become UCalgary students for the third and fourth years of the program: In fall 2019, there will be 118 UCalgary students enrolled in years three and four and about 250 total nursing students at the MHC campus across all four years. MHC now graduates approximately 50 nursing students each year.

Sandra Fritz, interim department chair for nursing in MHC’s Division of Science and Health, says the program is thriving in part due to its strong connection to the University of Calgary, but more importantly, because of its connection to the tight-knit community of Medicine Hat in southern Alberta.

“We have the benefit of the UCalgary Nursing courses, but our instructors are based in Medicine Hat and truly understand what it means to be part of this community,” she says. “Our faculty of 14 is also small and so we mirror, in a way, the student culture. It allows us to be more responsive to any challenges and also to all the successes. Ben is a great example of the calibre of students that come out of our program.”

A village clinic in Malawi.

A village clinic in Malawi.

Technology advancements level the field

Northcott says these students outside of major centres do not suffer from lack of opportunities. One of the big reasons is the use and connection to technology. “When I was a student, posting the lecture PowerPoint was a new thing. Now, it is expected. I printed my teacher’s PowerPoints to take notes. Now, students bring devices to class to take notes.

"High fidelity simulation, interactive learning programs, electronic games for learning, and more are all new facets of teaching and learning that have changed in the past 10 years,” he explains. And they can be offered by any nursing program.

A passion of Northcott’s — and one he would like students in smaller Alberta cities to participate in — is the option to exchange to other countries to experience nursing in developing areas. Students in their final year at MHC have been able to travel to UCalgary’s Qatar campus for what is always described as a life-changing one-month practicum, and Northcott would like to see more students have the opportunity to get a sense of nursing farther afield.

His parents founded Canadian Humanitarian Organization for International Relief, dedicated to assisting disadvantaged children, their families and their communities leave the cycle of poverty. ”My parents have included myself and my siblings in many things over the years and we all have developed a strong sense of the world and Ethiopia in particular," says Northcott. "Since I have become a nursing educator, it has become an interest of mine to combine nursing education with international humanitarian experiences.”

A community home visit in Malawi.

A community home visit in Malawi.

Humanitarian travel benefits students

Northcott travelled with a group of students last year and saw first-hand the knowledge gained from witnessing health care and practices in other parts of the world. “Nursing students were able to participate in providing medical check-ups for program participants and to community clinics in remote areas,” he says, adding he would like to see this become an approved course in a nursing program 

Northcott is an advocate for a “broader view” on the part of students and doesn’t feel being in a smaller community inhibits that in any way. “As I have moved into different roles beyond bedside nursing, I have become more and more aware of the systems, organizations, structures, economics and politics and how all of these interface with nurses and nursing in general," he says. "This has been really eye-opening and changed the way I think. I try to instil this vision in my students.”

No matter where you complete your nursing education, Northcott says the general principles — learning, studying, developing — remain the same and clinical practice learning will not change. “You still have to be there, interact with people and patients and work hard. Students are still students; we just use different tools to support learning and growth.”