Plamondon was the perfect stop for 19 bilingual nursing and physiotherapy students looking for a rural francophone health-care experience.
Located 200 kilometers northeast of Edmonton, this community of about 350 people just west of Lac La Biche is one of four municipalities in Alberta that are officially bilingual. (Beaumont, Legal, and Falher are the other three.)
The bilingual students from Campus Saint-Jean, the French-language faculty of the University of Alberta, were in Plamondon on March 8, 2020 to participate in a Faculté Saint-Jean and RhPAP-sponsored Skills Weekend.
The Lac La Biche Regional Attraction and Retention Society did a magnificent job of organizing two days chalked full of exciting activities that highlighted the lifestyle here.
While visiting the Lac La Biche region, students took part in Plamandon’s winter celebration, La Cabane á Sucre, translated as “Sugar Shack.”
It’s a beautiful community and, because we are in the bilingual [program], it’s great to be able to utilize our French and see that Francophone culture. – Ceilidh Stewart, second-year bilingual nursing, University of Alberta Campus Saint Jean
The celebration took place under sunny skies, and featured sleigh rides and French musical performances. Students were also treated to a taste of “la tire sur la neige” – maple syrup poured onto snow, allowed to cool, and then rolled onto a stick. It’s very sweet and delicious!
A tour of the Lac La Biche Mission was also presented in French. This Roman Catholic Mission was established in 1853 and is a national historic site. Many of the first settlers to Alberta were French-Canadian. Today, according to the latest census, there are 268,615 bilingual Albertans.
While in Plamondon, the students also toured Tree de la vie Midwifery. Midwife, Chantal Gauthier-Vaillancourt, speaking in French, told them that she and fellow midwife, Marianne King, attend 50 to 60 births each year, 90 per cent of which are water births, with half done in the home and half in hospital.
“It’s a beautiful community and, because we are in the bilingual [program], it’s great to be able to utilize our French and see that Francophone culture,” says Ceilidh Stewart, a second-year bilingual nursing student at Campus Saint-Jean.
The day before in Lac La Biche, the students visited the local air ambulance hangar. Most of the air ambulance flights out of Lac La Biche are to take patients from nearby rural hospitals in Lac La Biche, Cold Lake, Bonnyville, and Lloydminster to Edmonton hospitals.
“[Our air ambulance is] doing about 75 patient–transfer flights a month,” says Trevor Funk, president and owner of Alberta Central Air Ambulance Ltd. “There’s only one [physician] per hospital often on-call, so we can help those physicians get their patients to a higher level of care in Edmonton and Calgary quickly and professionally.”
The skills portion of the weekend took place at Portage College in Lac La Biche and included a tour of William J. Cadzow Lac La Biche Healthcare Centre, a presentation on mental health, and hands-on training in suturing, intraosseous injections, and advanced airway management.
For the first time ever at a skills event, students stayed in cabins. The cabins are located in Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park next to Lac La Biche Lake. That’s also where the students were the guests at a community dinner.
“This has been a great honour for us to have you here,” Lac La Biche County mayor, Omer Moghrabi, told the students.
The busy weekend also included dining at the Fat Unicorn Brewery and watching the Junior B Lac La Biche Clippers win their hockey playoff series against Cold Lake at the impressive recreational complex called the Bold Centre.
I was always interested in rural, but coming and seeing this this weekend has definitely solidified that for me. – Josée Jantz, third-year bilingual nursing, University of Alberta Campus Saint Jean
By the end of the skills weekend, many of the students were expressing an interest in practising in rural Alberta. The opportunity to work to full scope of practice was very attractive to most of the students.
“You are really kind of first line and you really have to know your stuff and you get to use it,” added Ceilidh Stewart. “So, I think it’s definitely something I would want to do in the future.”
“I was always interested in rural, but coming and seeing this this weekend has definitely solidified that for me,” explained Josée Jantz, a third-year bilingual nursing student.
Kevin Mpunga, a second-year bilingual nursing student added: “I would definitely do so as well, because I would be answering for a need [for nurses in rural Alberta] that’s been existing forever really and a lot of people overlook that opportunity.”
“It’s a really wonderful community-feel, and I definitely want to come back,” concluded Janelle Gratton, a second-year bilingual nursing student.