Fill­ing the gap in health care

Queens County’s pi­lot health-care pro­gram for stu­dents termed a suc­cess

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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

that man­date.

“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.

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