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Program prepares nurses for in-demand specialization
Okanagan College Media Release

An aging population could mean a dual crunch for B.C. hospitals over the next decade, with an increased number of patients requiring care coming at the same time as a wave of retirements among the province’s nurses.

A program being offered by Okanagan College aims to help health authorities bridge the skills gap in an increasingly in-demand specialization.

Shirley Pope is among the first graduates of the College’s Gastroenterology Nursing Certificate program. After a 15-year career in neonatal nursing in Calgary, Pope and her husband retired to Kelowna a few years ago. But when she found out about the opportunity to pursue a new specialty in the Okanagan, Pope decided to forgo retirement in favour of the chance to make a difference in a field new to her.

“I tried retirement for less than six months and thought, ‘No, I’m not ready. I want to try something different in nursing’.”

The field has proven to be a new calling for Pope.

“It’s a specialty that’s definitely growing, and it’s one that requires a great deal of education.”

“I gained a lot of knowledge and then put it to work during my practicum, which reinforced the learning.”

Okanagan College launched the program last October, after consultation with Interior Health and with the support of the Canadian Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates.

The program is delivered online and focuses on providing practicing nurses with the knowledge and skills for endoscopy-room nursing. It includes 232 hours of theory and a 70-hour practicum.

Despite never having taken a distance education course before, Pope says she was pleasantly surprised with how quickly she adjusted to online learning.

“The program was set up very well,” explains Pope. “It was challenging, but I was impressed by the way it was delivered.”

“It was nice that students in the class could share their experiences. Coming from a different specialty, I found the level of interaction highly beneficial. I didn’t feel isolated.”

For Pope, the best news of all came just after completing her practicum when she was offered full-time employment on the Gastroenterology unit at Kelowna General Hospital. She says a number of her classmates have also been hired onto the unit.

“It’s been a wonderful thing for me,” says Pope. “I love the new challenge.”

She is quick to point out that even for experienced nurses, stepping onto a specialized unit can be incredibly difficult without prior training.

“It really helps a nurse coming onto a unit to have that background of knowledge,” she says. “Learning is ongoing—you will always keep training, but having the knowledge in place has really made my transition into a new specialty that much easier.”

The program is already being hailed as a groundbreaking new training opportunity. Prior to its launch, practicing nurses who wanted to prepare to take the Canadian Nursing Association Certification in Gastroenterology Nursing exam would often have to educate themselves.

“This program has been well received by the first group of Interior Health nurses participating in the studies as well as by their managers,” noted Denise Dunton, Interior Health’s Surgical Services Clinical Leader in Acute Care Services.

Dunton was instrumental in the program’s development. She saw a need for it after discussions with gastroenterological nurses and administrators at IH. She then checked in with other health authorities, including Fraser Health Authority and the Northern Health Authority, and found that they were supportive of a specialized program being developed. Dunton approached the College’s Continuing Studies and Corporate Training department and provided input on the curriculum as it was developed. The first students stepped into the classroom in October and began practica earlier this summer.

The next intake for the program begins on Sept. 12. Dunton is excited about the program’s ongoing development and the need it is filling.

“Feedback has been excellent and I am pleased to be supporting the second cohort of students in this comprehensive program,” said Dunton.

According to B.C. government statistics, the province will need 25,000 nurses by 2022. New and mid-career nurses will be needed to replace those retiring in specializations like Gastroenterology.

To review admission requirements or for more information about the Gastroenterology Nursing Certificate program, visit