A group shot of the Swan Hills Students who took part in Healthcare Skills Day. Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A group of Swan Hills School students from grades 9 – 12 got to see a different side of the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre (SHHC) on Thursday April 6, 2023 during a full-day event focusing on exciting, in-demand rural healthcare careers.

The group of 17 students arrived at the SHHC early Thursday morning for the Healthcare Skills Day event, but not in the same way as they may have done in the past. As the day’s events centred around careers in rural healthcare, the students entered the building through the staff entrance instead of using the main doors as would a patient.

After welcoming the students and getting them settled into a large room that had been prepared as a meeting space away from the usual patient areas of the SHHC, the event organizers outlined how the day would proceed. The students were divided into three groups and would rotate between three skills stations over the course of the morning. Then, after an informational lunch break, the students would rotate through three more stations throughout the afternoon. 

The organizers emphasized the importance of patient confidentiality and that students were not to use their cell phones or take pictures while the event was ongoing. They also explained that students could step away from the proceedings at any time if they felt overwhelmed or found that any of the subject matter was too much for them to handle.

The first three stations included a site tour, Lab and X-ray, and EMS (Emergency Medical Services). 

The site tour included a behind-the-scenes look into some of the areas that the public generally doesn’t see, including the staff change rooms, maintenance, dietary, and laundry, as well as more public spaces, such as the clinic, registration and health/information records, and public health. The students were able to speak to people who worked in these departments and learn more about their duties and responsibilities. The students also learned about homecare and protective services.

At the Lab and X-ray station, the students learned about the CLXT (Combination Lab and X-Ray Tech) position, a specialized profession combining both the medical laboratory and X-ray diagnostic imaging disciplines. CLXT technologists in Alberta practice predominately in rural communities. The students viewed a specially recorded video from NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) presenting useful information about the Laboratory and X-Ray Technology Combined program. Afterwards, the group viewed specimens with a microscope, practiced drawing blood with an artificial arm, and toured the X-ray department. The students also learned practical information about this career, including education requirements and prerequisites, the length of the program, starting salaries, and salary progression.

At the EMS station, the students learned about the three EMS designation levels recognized in Alberta; Emergency Medical Responder, Primary Care Paramedic, and Advance Care Paramedic, including the education requirements, which educational institutions offer these programs, and the entry requirements for these programs of study. They also learned about the salaries earned in these professions and examples of typical work schedules. The students were given a tour of the ambulance, with demonstrations of some of the equipment, and a quick ride around the parking lot.

After each small group had a chance to experience each station, the students were provided with a delicious lunch. Over the course of a working lunch break, the students heard presentations from representatives for Addictions and Mental Health, as well as from the doctor on duty, Dr. Kahn.

After the lunch break, the students once again broke off into their small groups and rotated through three new skills stations; Healthcare Aide/Patient Transfer Apparatus, ABCs of Critical Care, and IV Starts and Injections.

The small group was divided into two at the Healthcare Aide/Patient Transfer Apparatus station. Half of the group experienced the Healthcare Aide station, while the other half did the Patient Transfer Apparatus station. The two subgroups switched stations halfway through the allotted time, ensuring that every student could try each station.

For the Healthcare Aide (HCA) station, two students were designated as patients while one student took on the role of HCA. For this scenario, the “patients” were seniors who had experienced a stroke and suffered a fall where they had broken their dominant arm and the foot on that (dominant) side of their body. Their eyeglasses had been damaged in the fall, so their vision was impaired, and their family members couldn’t find or forgot to bring their hearing aids, so their hearing was also impaired. If that wasn’t enough, they suffered nerve damage to their non-dominant hand. To simulate the elements of the scenario, the student “patients” had their dominant arm tied in a sling to prevent them from using it, had to wear eyeglasses with smeared lenses (to impair their vision), put cotton in their ears with noise cancelling headphones playing hospital sounds (to impair their hearing), and wear a thin winter glove on their dominant hand to simulate nerve damage. Once the “patients” were set up, they were given a single-serve cup of applesauce and a spoon. After they had some time to try to open and eat their applesauce, it was time for the HCA to help them out. The HCA also had to remove the “patient’s” shoes and put them on again before using a transfer belt to help them to change locations. It was an interesting way for the “patients” to experience what it is like to be reliant on HCA and nursing staff and for the student HCA to experience some of the job duties of that position.

The Patient Transfer Apparatus station did not have quite as detailed of a scenario. Students played the role of patient during demonstrations of a mechanical sit-to-stand lift, a full-body mechanical lift, and the use of a transfer belt, being lifted or transferred from a hospital bed to a commode.

The ABCs of Critical Care station made use of specialized dummies and emergency care equipment. First, the students were run through a heart attack scenario with a full-sized talking diagnostic dummy, complete with a vital signs monitor whose readout changed to match the patient’s condition as the scenario progressed. Next, the students took turns practicing giving chest compressions on a specialized CPR dummy that measured the compression depth and timing. Afterwards, the students were guided through using a pelvic stabilization device to respond to a neck injury and broken pelvis scenario, a modern tourniquet in an axe wound scenario, and using a survival collar in a motorcycle accident scenario.

At the IV Starts and Injections station, the students learned about and got to practice giving subcutaneous and intermuscular injections using oranges as their patients. When learning about administering IVs, they discovered that the site used for the IV start depends on its purpose, how long it will be in place and the type of drugs that will be administered. The students practiced administering IV starts using artificial arms. Throughout this experience, the students learned best practices and safety when handling syringes and other sharps. 

At the end of the day, all of the students gathered as a larger group for the closing remarks from the event organizers and to talk about the day’s events before heading back to the school for the end of classes. 

The Healthcare Skills Day was an incredible experience that was very well received by students, teachers, and staff alike. When asked what they thought of the Skills Day experience at different points throughout the day, the students responded positively, saying it was really fun and exciting. A few students even used the word inspiring. 

The importance of events like this can not be overstated. The students were given unique opportunities to learn about and experience aspects of highly needed healthcare professions that are otherwise unavailable to the general public. Ideally, these experiences may inspire some group members to pursue some of these career paths and (fingers crossed) return to work at the SHHC. But even if this group of students decides that the presented healthcare careers aren’t a good fit for them, they will still have learned something valuable about themselves and where their interests lie.

Hopefully, the Healthcare Skills Day will become a regular event for the students of Swan Hills School.

By Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 12, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Grizzly Gazette   Swan Hills, Alberta
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