Education grants program an investment in staff and patient care

By Emily Dawson

Raising children. Being a good spouse. Meeting professional responsibilities. Running a home. Paying a mortgage. Caring for aging parents. When working adults consider full or part time studies they often face many daunting challenges.

To help Providence Healthcare employees take the big step, it established an Education Grants program in 2006. Since its inception, hundreds of people have taken on the challenge and a total of $831,936 has been awarded to date. Here are the stories of two grant recipients.

After working at Providence since 2004, Human Resources senior director Aileen Edwards felt she hit a career ceiling when she reached her 50s. So she applied to the Master of Arts in Leadership at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, and was accepted.

Providence’s Education Grants program covered about 80 percent of the cost of her tuition and books; Aileen paid for her flights to Victoria and accommodation expenses.

“The grant was extremely helpful,” said Aileen, explaining her decision to apply for a Master’s degree was easier to make knowing the organization would support her.

Obtaining her graduate degree took collaboration, strength and determination. She and her husband, who works full time, reorganized their responsibilities at home to create time for her to study. Leading up to her classes, Aileen had worried she might be the oldest in her class, which turned out to be the case, “but not by much,” to her relief. During the program her mother died – a deeply difficult time for Aileen and her family – but she resolved to continue her studies believing this is what her mother would have wanted.

Having graduated, she reflects attaining her goal has had a positive impact personally and professionally. At home, “My children say I’m their hero,” she says humbly. At Providence, Aileen applies her education to improve patient care. Her Master’s thesis, for example, examined how nurse practice consultants can enhance communication among the front line nurses at Providence; several of her report’s recommendations have been implemented.

For Providence, its investment in Aileen and other employees through the Education Grants program pays off, too.

The program helps the organization achieve its strategic direction BEST Community of Experts, one of three strategic directions featured in Providence’s BEST Together Strategic Plan 2015-2020.

There are two primary strategic aims of the Best Community of Experts: ensuring staff has the confidence and resources to create better care and relationships; and, for staff to feel enriched and empowered to make decisions that create a better Providence.

Innovation and education specialist Drema MacDonald oversees the Education Grants program. Since its inception in 2006, the amount of funding has increased to $110,000 annually for the past three years.

Applications are due in September each year and stipulate an individual must have completed the course or conference prior to the deadline in order to be eligible. The maximum amount granted per employee per year is $5,000.

Last year, Providence reimbursed close to 100 percent of the individual grant applications. However, just applying for a grant does not guarantee funding, explains Drema.

An Education Grant Committee reviews the award applications; courses or conferences must be applicable to the individual’s work at Providence to be eligible for funding. The number of applicants and total amount of funding requested also influences the amount distributed each year. Those awarded a grant are recognized at Providence’s Innovation and Education Award Day ceremony held annually in November.

There are many inspiring stories throughout Providence of staff returning to school while working and managing other responsibilities.

Midway through an undergraduate program is Adolfo Rodriguez, a registered practical nurse (RPN) and a resident care supervisor in the Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence. The 37-year-old husband and father of two children, ages 6 and 12, has returned to school full time to obtain a degree in nursing while working full time.

Adolfo has successfully completed the one-year RPN Bridge to B.Sc.N. program at George Brown College and is in the first of five semesters of Trent’s B.Sc.N. program offered at the George Brown site.

“A degree offers more opportunities,” says Adolfo. “I’m glad I’m doing it,” he explains, adding he had contemplated going back to school for a long time. He has applied for funding from the Education Grants program for the bridge program he completed; Adolfo will apply for the program again when he completes his B.Sc.N.

Although difficult, returning to school as a working adult has benefits. “I’ve been able to apply leadership skills I learned through the program to my role at Providence, while applying what I have learned at work to my studies,“ reflects Adolfo.

Providence Healthcare is part of a new network that includes St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital. For more information about the Education Grants program contact Drema MacDonald at

Emily Dawson is a Senior Communications Advisor, Providence Healthcare.