Celebrating 70 Years of Supporting Healthcare Professional Development!

2021 is CHA Learning’s 70th anniversary. Seven decades of providing professional development to healthcare professionals across Canada – from a distance. Our history is thanks to the legacy organization that gave us the ‘CHA’ in our name: The Canadian Healthcare Association. In fact, before it was the Canadian Healthcare Association, it was the Canadian Hospital Association and before that, the Canadian Hospital Council.

This is a history that began before eLearning was a thing; before virtual learning was even possible; before there was an “online” space let alone computers. CHA Learning was born before many of the colleges and universities that dot our country today, back in a time when bridging the vast distance that is Canada required postage, letter carriers and travel.

When HealthCareCAN was created by a merger of the Canadian Healthcare Association and the Association of Canadian Academic Healthcare Organizations in 2014, CHA Learning consulted our many stakeholders who told us to keep the name of our professional development division, lest we lose our history and the name so many use to search for healthcare education. And so, not only did we keep it, but we also invested in reinvigorating the brand and building it into our HealthCareCAN identity.

As we celebrate, and remember, our history, here is a summary of where we have come from, where we are today, and where we are going next!

NB: I cannot claim to have done the copious amounts of research that this post will summarize; it comes from a book, called Guarding Canada’s Health System: The History of the Canadian Healthcare Association 1931 to 2006. It was written by Eleanor Sawyer with the Working Group on the History of the CHA and published in 2006 on the 75th anniversary of the Canadian Healthcare Association.

Our Beginnings as a Healthcare Learning Provider

For the Canadian Healthcare Association (CHA), distance learning was always about serving members: healthcare organizations and provincial healthcare associations across Canada. When the first learning program was developed in 1951, it was born out of a need being expressed by our Members: a need for people to be trained in effective hospital administration and operations. So, the Hospital Organization and Management distance learning program (HOM) was born, after much work and consultation. The program combined home-study with four-week intensive, in-person sessions, called the Intramurals. The first graduating class saw 33 people finish in 1953. The HOM Program continued to be offered for 30 years until 1983, when it was redeveloped and renamed the Health Services Management (HSM) program, which ran (with evolution along the way) until 2017 when it was again redeveloped and redesigned. These programs were important to the Canadian healthcare system: providing necessary skills and knowledge required by those working in middle management while allowing them to continue working and even to receive advanced standing towards degrees should they wish to pursue them.

The HOM program’s launch in 1951 was just the beginning and it spurred on the CHA to develop a series of other programs as well.

One of those early programs is an extremely important one because what it eventually became is now our largest, and oldest, online program: the Health Information Management (HIM) Program. In 1953, the Extension Course for Medical Records was developed in a partnership between the CHA and Canadian Association of Medical Record Librarians (CAMRL). There was a need for this course due to a shortage of trained Medical Record Librarians from colleges across Canada. The curriculum was developed with support from the School for Medical Record Librarians at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Over time, the medical records program was redeveloped to support people who were already working in medical records departments which our members told us was the need we could fill. Back then, and today, we not only supported individual learners, but we helped employers to upskill their own employees to fill important health human resource needs, including for Certified HIM professionals. As the profession evolved, so did the program, being renamed to support Health Records Technicians and Administrators, then Health Information Services Professionals and finally Health Information Management professionals. Today, our Canadian College of Health Information Management-accredited program boasts an annual enrollment of almost 250 and graduates close to 100 people each year, with learners coming from almost every province and territory in Canada – and international students as well.

Other early programs included:

  • The Nursing Unit Administration Program, developed in 1961 in partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association and operated for more than 30 years
  • The Hospital Food Service Supervision Program since 1968, now our fully-accredited Food Service and Nutrition Management (FSNM) Program
  • The Long-Term Care Organization and Management Program, developed in 1973 in partnership with the Ontario Nursing Home Association, the Ontario Hospital Association and the Ontario Ministry of Health. This program evolved too, into the Long-Term Care Administrator Program and will soon continue its own evolution when it re-launches as the Long-Term Care Executive Leadership Program in May 2021.
  • Total Quality Management in 1993, which evolved to become Continuous Quality Improvement, then Integrated Quality Management and most recently into our sister programs Foundations of Healthcare Quality and Quality Improvement Leadership.
  • Risk Management and Safety in Health Services in 2004 which expanded to become several offerings still available today on risk management and patient safety.

The Evolution of CHA Learning Online

Beginning in 2012, CHA Learning went through an enormous change. Under CHA’s new leadership, programs were retired, redeveloped, and created new. The in-person intramural sessions were stopped to allow for more flexibility, access, and cost-effectiveness for learners. Most importantly, CHA Learning invested in new technology, boldly stepping out of its history as a correspondence-based distance learning provider relying on Canada Post, and stepping into the present as a fully online provider. This change allowed us to spearhead tremendous growth in programming and increased our enrolments, reach, and impact. In just 9 short years, our entire catalogue of programming has been entirely refreshed and our division transformed into Canada’s only national, online healthcare learning provider.

With very high rates of student satisfaction and recommendation, we now see alumni return to us throughout the careers, returning for multiple programs of interest. We remain an education provider that is entirely for healthcare, by healthcare, delivering programs in partnership with many other organizations and with our team of dedicated faculty coaches who support learners from all across the country.

Future Growth – Grow with Us

Now as we look to the future, we must continue to grow and change to support the needs of our members and learners and ensure that our programming is always current, relevant and innovative. Our Board of Directors are behind us and have approved the critical resources to invest in our future. So, this year we are implementing two important systems: technology which will allow us to deliver even better services to our stakeholders and use the best tools to provide interactive and cutting-edge online learning programs to the Canadian healthcare system. In 2021 we will launch both a new Student Management System as part of a new online Portal and we will be migrating our programs and students to a new Learning Management System (LMS) provided by another leading Canadian success story, Desire to Learn (D2L).

CHA Learning’s legacy has always been about listening: listening to members, listening to partners, listening to students. It has always been about helping and supporting our health system with people who are trained and ready to foster operational and care excellence. We remain a small, charitable non-profit with a big heart and lofty goals. Our dedicated team served more than 1200 learners in 2020 and supported many incredible health professionals (our students) through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Each year, we continue to strive to stay ahead of where the health system needs by launching new programs and by continuing to ensure we meet the needs of our members. And, we couldn’t have gotten this far without the support and belief of the more than 30,000 learners who have trusted us with their professional development over the last 70 years. Many of these alumni have gone onto stellar journeys of their own, become senior leaders, administrators, and CEOs and, in turn, have touched millions and millions of Canadians.

Thank you for celebrating with us!

Share Your Story

Have a story to share about your experience with us over the years? Send us an email at chalearning@healthcarecan.ca and connect with us on twitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.


About the Author:


Jessica Schierbeck, MPA, BHA, CHIM, CHE
Director, Strategic Solutions, CHA Learning 

Jessica is one of two Directors on the CHA Learning team, responsible for a portfolio of programs and for continuing to grow CHA Learning’s program offerings to support the health system and its professionals in their ongoing development.