Filling the gap in health care
Queens County’s pilot health-care program for students termed a success
Health-care professionals in the Region of Queens found a way to address human resource shortages through an innovative student program launched this past summer.
Debbie Doucette, health services manager site liaison, explains how the idea came about for this one-of-a-kind initiative.
“Students were taking part in a co-operative learning program through the high school when one of them [Ben Hatt] asked if we had ever thought about hiring students for the summer,” she says. “Honestly, we never had.”
So, she says, they approached Dr. Al Doucet, chair of the Queens General Hospital Foundation board of directors, with the idea of hiring a summer student. She explains the idea was three pronged.
“We saw this as a good way to expose students to the health-care system before they make decisions about their futures and that way we believed it would allow those students to make better decisions on their studies,” Doucette says. “We also believe that, down the road, with better informed students, this could be an effective recruiting tool.”
For the board’s part, Doucet says that while the foundation was set up to raise funds for the purchase of capital equipment for Queens General, members actually saw the summer student program as an opportunity to extend
“Ultimately,” he says, “the goal is to support and enhance health care in Queens, and what better way to do that than to invest in students who could become future health-care workers here at home?”
He says the foundation board understands that human capital is just as important as equipment. “Even more so, because what good is equipment if you don’t have anyone to operate it?”
With that attitude, the board approved a trial program for this past summer with the intention of hiring one student.
“But when the applications came in, we had received interest from four quality candidates who we felt would be excellent additions to the health-care staff,” he says, adding that the board decided to increase their commitment to hire those four students.
That commitment included covering wages for the students, as well as providing them with their uniforms and laboratory coats, Doucet explains.
“In reality, it was a small investment into what potentially could come back to us in the future,” he says. “The payoff could be felt well into the future.”
Doucette adds that another aspect of this program is that it allowed the students to gain firsthand exposure to the health-care system and will allow them to make more informed decisions about the line of study they want to pursue.
“This is a win-win for everyone involved,” she says. “The local health system gains because we had four extremely motivated young people working with us for the entire summer and it may mean that in the future, they could come back to work in the local system, so that’s a huge benefit. For the students, it means they got some practical experience that will help them decide what field of medicine they want to pursue.”
Doucet adds, “We’re hoping that eventually they will come back to work permanently in Queens, but for the interim, we were fortunate to have four dynamic young people working with us. That’s a plus no matter how you look at it.”
For the students taking part in the summer program, they all report positive experiences.
Olivia Gaetz is from Eagle Head and a second-year student at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She says the summer months working with local health-care professionals gave her valuable experience that she couldn’t have gained in any other type of job.
While studying biology and chemistry, Gaetz is looking at a career in emergency medicine. “This program has been helpful in
preparing myself to go back to university and knowing exactly what I want to do,” she says. “I didn’t want to stay in a field that may not have been what I wanted, but after this summer, I know what I’m doing.”
Although the young adults may have been summer students, they all say they were treated like professionals within the health-care system.
“We got to shadow doctors and nurses to see what they did and to learn from them,” Gaetz says. “It was great because we got to do everything from cleaning beds, to transporting and playing cards with patients. They gave us an all-round, hands-on experience and we learned a lot.”
Ben Hatt from Milton entered his first year at Dalhousie University this fall where he is pursuing a bachelor of science.
Thanks to the summer job placement, he says he knows he wants a career in medicine and he may specialize in pediatrics. But, he adds, he would not be in a position to make that decision if he hadn’t had the summer experience.
“It was 50 per cent learning and 50 per cent working,” he says. “It exposed us to a variety of experiences, including some things we liked and some things we don’t, but it gave us a good view of the bigger picture.”
In the end, Hatt says, he believes the experience helped to stream the students toward the careers and studies that best suit them. “It really did help me to decide in which direction I wanted to go.”
Doucet says that’s what they want to hear.
“We know there are many challenges facing the health-care system, especially when it comes to human resources,” he says. “Providing summer jobs for these students is an investment in the future and is just one small step in helping to address these problems.”
Samantha Allen from Liverpool is a first-year biology student at Acadia University who wants to become a laboratory technician. Actually, she adds, she isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do, but she is certain that it will be something in the field of medicine. Her summer job placement helped to confirm that.
“It was a great learning experience,” she says. “We got to do so much and now, I can actually see myself spending my entire life working in the field. If it hadn’t been for this summer program, it may have taken me a long time to figure that out.”
Doucette says she is pleased when she hears the students talk like that because it reaffirms their belief that this was a worthwhile effort.
“The hospital staff were all very helpful and responsive to the students,” she says. “They all took pride in seeing the growth and positive changes these four young people experienced over the course of the summer months. It really was something to watch.”
Denis Oxner, zone manager for emergency preparedness at Queens General, who, along with Doucette, spearheaded the launch of the summer student program, says one of the things he liked about the effort was that the students got to experience many of the other aspects of health care.
“They got to experience jobs that are behind the scenes and not on the frontlines,” he says. “They learned that it takes many other professionals doing many different jobs to run a hospital.”
For Doucet, he says the program was successful enough that the board wants to do it again next summer.
“The evidence before us allows us to conclude that this was a good thing and that we want to offer the opportunity again,” he says.
“Based on what we’ve seen and heard, we think it was a worthwhile investment.”
The fourth summer student taking part in the program was Emma Reeves from North
Queens. She wasn’t available for the interview, but she is studying mental health and promotion at the Nova Scotia Community College campus in Yarmouth.
During her summer job, she got to spend three days a week in the medical health clinic in Caledonia, which, Doucet says, allowed them to bridge the gap between North and South Queens.
Students taking part in the Queens County health-care summer job program were, from left, Samantha Allen, Ben Hatt, Olivia Gaetz and Emma Reeves.