Thursday, 22 September 2016 08:00

RPAP hosts skills training weekend in Oyen including Medicine Hat College students

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Students training in several health-care disciplines discovered the advantages of living and working in a rural Alberta community during an RPAP Medical Skills Weekend event in Oyen on Sept. 17-18. More than 50 medical, nursing, and EMS students from the University of Calgary and Medicine Hat College experienced rural health care and lifestyles during this weekend event. Students training in several health-care disciplines discovered the advantages of living and working in a rural Alberta community during an RPAP Medical Skills Weekend event in Oyen on Sept. 17-18. More than 50 medical, nursing, and EMS students from the University of Calgary and Medicine Hat College experienced rural health care and lifestyles during this weekend event. Photo courtesy RPAP

For the first time, those being educated in health-care disciplines including as doctors, nurses and paramedics, had a chance to explore more about what rural medicine looks like in the small community of Oyen, along Highway 41.


The Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP) hosted a medical skills training event in the community Sept. 17-18. Not only was it the first time Oyen has played host to such an event, it was also the first time it included students from Medicine Hat College (MHC) in a unique partnership.
Other partners who helped make the weekend a success included the Oyen Big Country Hospital, Big Country Medical Dental Board and the SAMDA Economic Partnership.
“Sometimes communities are gung-ho and sometimes they think they don’t have enough (resources),” says Rosemary Burness, RPAP medical students’ initiatives co-ordinator, about the event. “Oyen was finally ready.”
Officials with their physician recruitment committee played a key role in helping organize the two-day weekend and Burness also gave kudos to Sandy Halldorson, director rural acute care East with Alberta Health Services, who championed the idea of including students from MHC.
“It was an important factor for Sandy (Halldorson) with Alberta Health Services. He had a quite a vision for it,” says Burness. “This is the first time Medicine Hat College has been involved and it was at Sandy’s insistence. After all, (AHS) is going to be hiring some of these students.”
Twenty-three medical students from Calgary rode a bus to Oyen, while another bus from Medicine Hat transported 24 nursing students and nine EMS students.
Most of their time was spent in skills development and training sessions at the Big Country Hospital learning everything from suturing and spinal immobilization, to IV/Interosseous and physiotherapy.
Later in the day on Saturday, there was a tour of the Acadia Valley Hutterite Colony and a community dinner that evening in the Red Barn.
Burness says one of the most rewarding aspects of these rural training events which take place  a few times a year in different locations, is the confidence it instills in the students about their future which could likely be working in a rural area.
“Every student is terrified to work in rural Alberta because they might be the only doctor, the only nurse or the only EMS (person),” she says.
While there may be only a few nurses or one physician, the training weekends are meant to show students the importance of teamwork in their future careers.
“It’s a team. We really try to spend time demonstrating that they’re not alone, it’s just different,” she adds about rural health care.
Touring the Hutterite Colony was set to be a very unique experience, as many of the students had never had exposure to this culture before. While many of the students may be used to a multi-cultural aspect of health care since they come from large centres such as Toronto, their cultural exposure likely hasn’t included that of Hutterites or even very many First Nations people.
There in turn can be a lesson for local communities hosting these events, as they gain a better understanding of the students who could be their future health-care workers. Burness points out about one-third of students graduating from medical school will be vegetarian or don’t eat pork if they are Muslim, for example.
“Imagine that in rural Alberta beef country,” she adds.
RPAP continues to host these kinds of skills weekends because of their success. Burness can tell numerous stories of students who chose to specifically enter rural medicine settings because of their experiences on these types of weekend excursions.
The nursing students from MHC taking part in the weekend were all in their fourth year of their degrees.
JoDee Wentzel, nursing instructor, says the weekend was a chance for the students to learn more about their role in a rural setting as an expert generalist.
“Our curriculum recently changed, but we were able to keep the rural nursing course in it. It’s a good opportunity to see, not only the skills, but how to collaborate with other disciplines ...,” says Wentzel.
She agrees with Burness that students are fearful of working in remote, rural settings. Students fear the isolation, but also having to perform so many skills so well, but they may be skills they don’t use very often depending on the circumstances. The students who took part were going to have the chance to see that they aren’t alone when they are working in a rural setting.
“I think a lot of the students who chose this course, come from a rural background,” she adds, about her current group of students. “For the rest, hopefully it peaks their interest and they will choose this (rural medicine) as a career. We feel very fortunate to be part of this.”
Scott Mullin, co-ordinator of the Bachelor of Applied Health Science Paramedic Program, also believes the training weekend was a good opportunity for students to see how they can work with others as a team.
“It’s an intercollaborative practise process in working with other health-care members and their roles,” he says. “Hopefully, it will break down some of the silos we have in health, as students will see what’s happening in those other roles.”
He also liked the fact the students would be able to brush up on their skills with the help of experts already working in the field.
“I think our students will get an opportunity to learn from physicians, nurses and therapists and get a different perspective than what they get from the faculty here at the college,” Mullin adds.
Officials with Alberta Health Services were also eager to take part, along with the students.
Sarah McDonald, a talent acquisition advisor for the South Zone, Human Resources, AHS, works out of the Medicine Hat area.
“I was brought to the table to look at how to look at the employment needs in the future and how to ‘grow your own’ in the South Zone,” she says.
McDonald believes the event is a beneficial way for students to see the value of pursuing a career in a rural area.
“We need to have great services out there. How do we give people the opportunity to see early on, what they can do at different sites?”
The spectrum of care offered in a small centre such as Oyen is much more broad than what many students will see in larger centres.
McDonald was looking forward to being able to learn even more about Oyen and area herself by attending the two-day event. She hopes those students who attended will be more open-minded about applying for future employment in the area or other small rural centres once they graduate.

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Rose Sanchez

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