The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has unveiled plans to introduce 25 new Nurse Practitioner (NP) positions over the next year to bolster primary healthcare services across Saskatchewan's rural, regional, and northern areas.

NPs play a crucial role in the healthcare landscape, bridging the divide between traditional nursing and primary care; with extensive clinical training and experience, they can perform a range of healthcare services and operate independently or as part of collaborative teams.

Ponteix NP, Melissa Carignan, has welcomed the announcement with optimism.

"Currently in Saskatchewan, we have about 180 vacancies for family physicians and it's getting harder and harder to recruit and retain not only physicians but healthcare workers in general," she said. "With nurse practitioners, a lot of us were born and raised in the communities we work. It helps when people are from small towns and they want to stay there. It's not for everybody to be out in the rural; nurse practitioners usually provide a lot of stability to community healthcare."

A nurse practitioner is someone with multiple years of experience as a registered nurse (RN) who then completes nurse practitioner schooling. NPs have been in the southwest since 1992, and NP Sherry Hornung, who graduated in that first class, still practices in Swift Current today.

Carignan currently works at the Ponteix Primary Healthcare Clinic and oversees approximately 1,300 patients, while the clinic's primary physician is on maternity leave. 

While specific details of the 25 new NP positions are currently limited, she's optimistic about the positive impact they will have on healthcare delivery in the area once they roll out.

"I think it will be easier for the province to keep up with the care needs of the communities by having nurse practitioners [present in them]," she said. "Hopefully we can keep expanding the positions ... and alleviate those pressures on the hospitals and especially the emergency departments by providing access to clinic care."

The Ministry of Health is also working to pilot a new model for independently operated and publicly funded Nurse Practitioner clinics.