Skills day sparks healthy interest in rural Alberta

(Edmonton) It’s not every day that University of Alberta medical and nursing students get to practise their skills side by side, let alone in a rural community welcoming them with open arms.

But that was exactly the case Oct. 20 in Stettler, when 48 medical students and seven nursing students participated in a rural clinical skills day. Co-organized by the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP), the day allows students to hone clinical skills such as suturing, inserting catheters and making casts, while exposing them to life in a small town.

U of A med students have participated in previous clinical skills days, but it was a first for nursing students and an opportunity to practise skills in an interdisciplinary setting.

“I’m really interested in how we work together in a care team, so I thought this was a perfect way to explore that further than we normally do in a classroom setting or when we’re in our own nursing bubble,” said Andrew McCutcheon, a third-year student in the nursing honours program.

“Interprofessional education is something the Faculty of Nursing and all the health sciences faculties have made a priority,” said Kaysi Eastlick Kushner, associate dean of undergraduate education. “It’s part of the dream of this building (Edmonton Clinic Health Academy), in terms of bringing students from a whole variety of programs to common spaces.”

Rural welcome

In addition to local doctors and nurses, students also met EMS workers, RCMP members, town councillors and business leaders, and even toured the nearby Lone Pine Hutterite Colony.

It was a welcome that personifies rural Alberta for McCutcheon, who wants to work in a smaller place as much for the sense of community as the greater independence and scope of practice.

On that point, several nursing and medical students agree. Rural Alberta is home for Charley Switzer, a second-year medical student from Oyen, Alta., and a leader with the Rural Medicine Interest Group (RMIG), which works with the U of A’s Office of Rural and Regional Health and groups like RPAP to promote the advantages of rural medicine.

“You often know your patients and their families; you tend to follow your patients over time. That’s the appeal for me, and the appeal to have a family in that type of setting,” she said.

Fellow med student and RMIG leader Lee Rehak, who hails from High River, said the whole point of events like rural skills day is to give all students—city and country—an opportunity to think rural.

“Having grown up in a small town doesn’t mean you’ll go back, but making sure that everyone’s aware of it is huge, so they don’t discount rural medicine just because they haven’t experienced it,” he said.

Brittany Walsh never gave much thought to working in rural Alberta, eyeing a career in critical care. A registered psychiatric nurse enrolled in her second year of the after-degree program, she jumped at the chance to experience something different.

Walsh felt the session allowed nursing and med students to bridge a gap in understanding of how a care team operates. The experience also opened her eyes about rural communities.

“I felt like I lived there and they were my family almost. It planted a huge seed and there might be a little garden growing in there about rural.”