UAlberta students get up-close look at rural health care

(Edmonton) “Eye-opening” is the first word that came to mind when Shu Juan Zhou reflected on this past weekend’s rural clinical skills day hosted by the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan in Westlock, Alberta.

For the first time, physical therapy students, including Zhou, joined medical and nursing students from the University of Alberta on April 20 and 21 to gain hands-on experience and a new perspective on what it would be like to work in a rural community.

“We got to go for a tour, which included a visit to the Westlock Hospital, a community dinner and even a trip to the local tractor museum,” said Zhou, a second-year physical therapy student from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. “I’m very grateful to RPAP for the experience.”

While at the Westlock Hospital, students were given several practice scenarios to tackle as a team, including cardiac emergency care, suturing, making casts and delivering a “baby.”

“I love that we had a range of scenarios to work through with students from different disciplines,” said Zhou. “It was interesting to see how other health-care professionals would respond to a scenario, compared to how I would. We all worked together to manage the patient’s needs; what a great team-building experience!”

RPAP has been hosting rural skills days for medical students in Alberta since 2004; nursing students were included for the first time in 2012. “By liaising with community groups, local area health-care facilities and Alberta Health Services, RPAP is able to provide hundreds of students every year a chance to experience real-world skills development in a rural community, which, for many, is their first experience outside an urban centre,” said executive director David Kay.

The interdisciplinary aspect of this program is what led to the inclusion of physical therapy students in Westlock. “This trip allows students to experience first-hand the level of collaboration required of rural health-care professionals,” explained Bernadette Martin, associate chair of the Department of Physical Therapy.

In addition to meeting other participants from different faculties, students took the time to network and get their questions answered by local professionals.

Zhou got to hear the benefits first-hand from local physiotherapist Murray Tuininga. “He explained that medical practitioners in rural communities tend have a broader range of caseloads,” she said. “I think I would like this because I always like a challenge and helping patients learn more about their health.”

After this experience, Zhou—a self-proclaimed “city gal”—says she’s open to working in Westlock following graduation. “If the opportunity came up, I would definitely consider it.”