Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Helping build a healthier Nova Scotia: StFX receives historic investment from the province to improve rural healthcare

March 9th, 2023
L-r, Hon. Brian Wong, Minister of Advanced Education, StFX Rankin School of Nursing faculty Dr. Britney Benoit, StFX Health Society co-president Erin Usher, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, Health Society co-president Katherine Culligan, the Hon. Michelle Thompson, Minister of Health and Wellness, StFX Board of Governors Chair Dennis Flood, and StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin.

It was an historic day for St. Francis Xavier University—and for health care in rural Nova Scotia—March 9 with the announcement that StFX will be receiving an investment of $37.4 million from the Government of Nova Scotia for its new Institute for Innovation in Health.

This is the largest single investment in the university’s 170-year history.

“This is wonderful news for our entire campus community and northern Nova Scotia,” StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin said as he joined with Premier Tim Houston, the Hon. Michelle Thompson, Minister of Health and Wellness, and the Hon. Brian Wong, Minister of Advanced Education, to make the announcement at a ceremony held before a large crowd in Mulroney Hall.

StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin

“This is an investment in advancing health, wellness, and rural care. The Institute for Innovation in Health at StFX will be recognized for impacting education, promotion, and prevention programs responsive to rural healthcare and service needs in Nova Scotian communities.” 

Dr. Hakin said the Institute will be a place on campus where StFX researchers and students will explore ways to improve health and wellness in rural Nova Scotia. The Institute will focus on health promotion, mental health, and solutions to the root causes to poor health. StFX, he said, is home to about 75 researchers who specialize in health research. 

The Institute will also serve as the headquarters of the National Collaborating Centre for the Determinants for Health at StFX, one of six national centres of excellence funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada focused on the translation of knowledge to act on the social determinants of health.

“This is a day when things start happening,” Dr. Hakin said as he thanked Premier Houston and the Province of Nova Scotia for its investment. 

“We will put our shoulders to the wheel to make a difference for residents of rural communities,” he said as he described StFX’s mission as a university is to give back to the community, to give value wherever we can, to better serve our communities. 

“This is about all of us moving forward,” he said. “This is a proud moment for our institution.”


Premier Tim Houston

“By focusing on prevention, we can help people lead stronger, healthier lives, which reduces the burden on the healthcare system,” said Premier Houston. “We have a long-term plan for healthcare and it’s working. This institute is another achievement for our province and complements the work underway to transform healthcare for Nova Scotians,” he said.

“It’s a good day for the future of health care in our province,” Premier Houston said as he thanked the team at StFX, especially Dr. Hakin, along with StFX alumni, former Canadian Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, and former New Brunswick Premier, the Honourable Frank McKenna, for championing this vision. 


Dr. Britney Benoit, Rankin School of Nursing faculty and Affiliate Scientist with Nova Scotia Health, who offered remarks on behalf of faculty, said in creating the Institute—with an emphasis on health promotion and rural care—StFX is committing to strengthening its interactions with health systems to meet health needs of Nova Scotians through education, research, and community-oriented efforts.

Rankin School of Nursing faculty Dr. Britney Benoit

“Our primary attention will be on addressing the social determinants of health, as well as improving health promotion and collaborative care initiatives in rural communities,” she said as she noted how efforts will include expanding clinical research capabilities in partnership with Nova Scotia Health, as well as expanding the use of clinical trials to test the impacts of health policy and health system interventions in rural communities.

Importantly, the Institute will become an incubator for developing, testing, and translating new approaches for health promotion and wellness to support the delivery of integrated and collaborative care in rural communities, she said. 

“As a registered nurse and clinician scientist, I view this as one of the most exciting objectives of the Institute – the opportunity to bring together expertise in a wide variety of health disciplines across StFX, and work in direct partnership with health systems, to advance inter-disciplinary and collaborative health research and education to meet the care needs of rural Nova Scotians, particularly those who have been traditionally underserved.

“In undertaking this effort, I firmly believe the Institute can make tangible impacts on health outcomes for Nova Scotians living in rural communities.”


Students and Health Society co-presidents Katherine Culligan and Erin Usher

StFX students Katherine Culligan and Erin Usher, co-presidents of the StFX Health Society, spoke about what this announcement means to them and to StFX students.

Ms. Culligan said this support will help StFX significantly expand health education and training opportunities for future generations of students and healthcare practitioners. 

Ms. Usher said the Institute will also create new health related academic programs and teaching facilities, as well as new accessible and updated research and community collaboration spaces in a sustainable building that, itself, contributes to health and wellness. 

“This new Institute will create an incredible environment for students engaged in health education at StFX, creating new research, internship, and service opportunities to work on the actual challenges in our health system.”

The Hon. Michelle Thompson


“This has been an amazing day for StFX and for northern Nova Scotia,” said StFX Board of Governors Chair Dennis Flood, who served as the master of ceremonies. 

On behalf of the Board of Governors, he thanked the Premier and Ministers Thompson and Wong for their foresight into the Institute and what it will bring in supporting good healthcare for people living in rural areas.

The Institute has the potential to benefit not just Nova Scotia but the entire country, he said, as researchers at StFX are also some of the best in Canada and their findings may have wide-reaching effects.


Premier Tim Houston speaks with Rankin School of Nursing students

The Institute for Innovation in Health at StFX will be a hub for health research and solutions; creating multi-disciplinary, inter-professional and community-responsive approaches and innovation to health. The Institute will also help reduce the demand of costly health interventions through a focus on social determinants of health, improving health promotion, mental health and wellness, and collaborative care interventions in rural communities.

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