*This story appeared in RhPAP’s September 1 Rural Health Beat e-newsletter with the inaccurate title “Nursing students work as LPNs and HCAs during summer break”. This title has been corrected online. We apologize for the error.*
When studying to become a nurse, practical experience can be the most beneficial way to learn.
That’s why Alberta Health Services (AHS) looks for ways to get nursing students into public facilities, even during a pandemic.
“Embedding students into this environment during such a time is important for their learning, as long as they’re well supported, have the proper [personal protective equipment], and the proper orientation,” said Tammy Syrnyk, senior advisor, HR Talent Solutions/Provincial Nursing Strategy at AHS.
“We know the value added; it’s knowledge they’ll take forward for the rest of their career.”
Creating opportunities for students to work positions in acute care, public health, and continuing care, AHS saw more than 100 nursing students fill various roles throughout rural Alberta in 2021.
Working as undergraduate nursing employees and in health-care aide type roles, the summer positions were another opportunity to learn during a time when students were displaced from the classroom because of COVID-19.
“I just felt like it would really benefit my learning,” shared Isabelle Posein, a second-year nursing student who worked as a [health-care aide] at the Vulcan Community Health Centre in summer 2021.
“This last year was completely online for us. In our second semester , we did get to do clinical, which was basically doing all the jobs a [health-care aide] would do, but unfortunately [our semester] got cut short.
“I’m really glad I did this [training], because I feel like I’ve learned more through it and expanded my knowledge.”
For students filling positions such as health-care aides, the opportunity enhances their skills and allows them to experience what they’ve learned in real time and with real patients.
“When they come as nursing students and work as [health-care aides] they get that first-hand experience,” said Oneikah Richards, care manager of the long-term, acute, and emergency departments at the Manning Community Health Centre.
“Even if it’s just observing or simply participating by passing supplies, they’re immersed in life experiences, and that goes a long way to developing their clinical skills and knowledge base.”
Spending time as a health-care aide also allows students to develop and grow their knowledge of basic care, something that will help them as they move forward in their career.
“Students often decide they want to be a nurse and have never been exposed to anything like perinatal care, bathing, how to turn people, and all that,” shared Sondra Dawydiuk, a licensed practical nurse in Manning who used her health-care aide certificate to work casually while she went to nursing school.
“I think it was helpful to already know and to already have had the experience of [working as a health-care aide].”
There is no wrong door into health care. Even if you think that’s not where you want to be, you’re learning and taking those new skills and competencies forward, wherever you choose to go.
– Tammy Syrnyk, senior advisor, Alberta Health Services HR Talent Solutions/Provincial Nursing Strategy
Health-care aides develop close relationships with their patients and can often play a big role in health outcomes.
“[Most often], it’s the [health-care aide] that brings forward [when something’s] not normal for [a patient]. They are definitely an integral part of assessments,” said Paulette Wagenvoort, manager of acute and long-term care at the Vulcan Community Health Centre.
“With the way [health care has] evolved, the same LPN [licensed practical nurse] or RN [registered nurse] may not be on site every day to do a head-to-toe assessment, so [health-care aides] help provide some continuity as part of a collaborative nursing approach.
“The LPNs and RNs are depending on those assessments; they’re depending on a communication component.”
Because of the important role that health-care aides play, nursing students who get the opportunity to work in that position gain special insight into how health-care teams work and a new perspective on what it means to be a nurse.
“There is no wrong door into health care,” added Syrnyk. “Even if you think that’s not where you want to be, you’re learning and taking those new skills and competencies forward, wherever you choose to go.”
To learn more about nursing student health-care aides, or any other student work options available through AHS, visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/careers.
Hiring students a good option for rural health-care facilities
Alberta Health Services (AHS) knows students can be the key to retention.
“It’s part of that grow–our–own–talent,” shared Tammy Syrnyk, senior advisor, HR Talent Solutions/Provincial Nursing Strategy at AHS.
“We nurture them and stay connected through the continuum of their formal program [to]keep them coming back. When [they’re] done, [they] may have an opportunity [to] apply as an internal applicant.”
I find that, when nurses come from different facilities or different areas, they bring new perspectives, new ways of doing things, or something that they might have seen in another facility. I am always open and welcoming of those new and fresh perspectives. I think it benefits the facility.
– Oneikah Richards, care manager of the long-term, acute, and emergency departments at the Manning Community Health Centre.
For many, working in a rural area can be an eye-opening and holistic experience that has students returning every summer to continue building their skills in a diverse and challenging setting.
“Historically, it seems people in the nursing program have gone from working as a health care aide one summer to the next summer working as an undergrad[uate],” explained Paulette Wagenvoort, manager of Acute and Long-term care, of what she’s seen at the Vulcan Community Health Centre.
“Then, from there, they return as a grad[uate] nurse, and then a registered nurse. It doesn’t always mean they will stay here forever, but it’s definitely a huge component of recruiting.”
Often supplementing staff, whether it be for summer vacation or specialized training, students not only help to complete health–care teams, they also bring something new to facilities.
“I find that, when nurses come from different facilities or different areas, they bring new perspectives, new ways of doing things, or something that they might have seen in another facility,” shared Oneikah Richards, care manager of the long-term, acute, and emergency departments at the Manning Community Health Centre.
“I am always open and welcoming of those new and fresh perspectives. I think it benefits the facility.”