SHEET HARBOUR — With a new federal policy that expands student loan forgiveness to include new doctors and nurses who choose to work in obviously rural, but technically urban, communities, Sam Stevens is smiling again. Almost.
Stevens — who has been a registered nurse at Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital in her hometown of Sheet Harbour (which is officially part of Halifax Regional Municipality) since she graduated from Dalhousie University in 2018 — calls the new rules a welcome relief.
“It won’t cover [my loan] fully,” she says. “But, it will be helpful.”
At the same time, she notes, “I’m also hoping they will back-pay us [cover the payments already remitted].”
The new policy, introduced in last week’s federal budget, proposes $45.9 million over four years, starting in 2024-25, with $11.7 million ongoing to Employment and Social Development Canada. This will, the budget says, “expand the reach of the Canada Student Loan Forgiveness program to more rural communities, including all communities with populations of 30,000 or fewer, like Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia.”
The budget also says the new measure complements the finance department’s decision last year to increase the amount of the student loan forgiveness amount by 50 per cent for eligible doctors and nurses. That means, going forward, nurses and doctors who choose to work in Sheet Harbour may qualify for up to $30,000 and $60,000, respectively, in loan forgiveness, based on the number of consecutive months in which they are employed.
In a Facebook post last week, Central Nova Member of Parliament Sean Fraser — who has advocated for the expanded definition of rural practice for years — was elated by the news. “Canada’s Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, wrote ‘Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia’ in this year’s federal budget,” he stated. “Communities along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore have long been cut out of a federal program that forgives student loans for doctors and nurses, because the definition of ‘rural’ was tied to the population of a municipality, instead of the population of a community… Rural communities like Sheet Harbour or Middle Musquodoboit will be eligible for the program regardless of whether they are part of a larger urban municipality.”
He added: “Not long after I was first elected, I learned about this problem from people in the community who told me that health professionals were choosing to work elsewhere because they would have access to this program. After years of advocacy in Ottawa and work with the community at home, we’ve secured a major policy change.”
Stevens agrees. “The fact that they are offering it now should help bring nurses here, she said.