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students listen as ICU staff explain patient care using a simulation mannequin
Making education accessible with Mohawk College
August 16, 2016

Making education accessible with Mohawk College

Monika Skarrat has always wanted a meaningful career.

Several years ago, she was working as an adult educator and preparing to start a family. But when she was pregnant with her first child, she got laid off. After her maternity leave, she and her husband crunched the numbers and realized that the jobs she was looking at didn’t pay enough to cover the cost of child care.

“When the opportunity came along, and it was free,I jumped.”

She now has two kids, ages three and five, and is eager to return to the workforce. So when she read that City School by Mohawk College was partnering with Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) for a month long Introduction to Health and Wellness course, the decision was a no-brainer. “When the opportunity came along, and it was free,” says Skarrat, “I jumped.”

City School by Mohawk

City School by Mohawk is a community-based initiative that aims to break down barriers to education and employment. It works with community partners to develop specialized training programs that encourage gradual steps to a postsecondary pathway. Their two campuses at the Eva Rothwell Centre and the Hamilton Public Library’s central branch aim to make education accessible to all young people.

This summer, they teamed up with HHS to build a four-week curriculum that gives students a first hand look at a career in health care.

“Mohawk is committed to making a college education accessible to everyone in our community,” says Emily Ecker, manager of community access and engagement at Mohawk College. “We’re thrilled to be doing exactly that with a long-time college partner. Together with Hamilton Health Sciences, a pretty remarkable group earned a college credit and gained the confidence to continue their studies at Mohawk.”

Monika Skarrat tests her vital signs in the ICU at Hamilton General Hospital

Hands on health care experience

The course was developed collaboratively by both HHS and City School by Mohawk. Students got to shadow health care professionals including dietitians, clerks, therapeutic recreationists and technicians who reprocess medical equipment between uses. Thanks to the involvement of many different departments and clinics at HHS, they got to experience simulation training in a variety of workplace scenarios. Combined with classroom learning, they were able to get a complete picture of what their pathway to a fulfilling career might look like.

“They left with a perspective of HHS and health care that they otherwise would never have had,” says John Parker, director of interprofessional development, quality and performance portfolio at HHS. “Hopefully that will lead to the path of education and a fulfilling career in the future.”

For Skarrat, seeing the variety of opportunities available to her was refreshing. “It’s opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities,” she says. “I had only really considered nursing but there are so many levels and departments you can work in to really contribute and benefit the welfare of patients.”

Many paths to a meaningful career

Dianne Norman, manager of student affairs and academic relations at HHS, coordinated hands-on learning experiences for the students to take part in. She brought in more than a dozen speakers to talk to the students about their roles in the hospital and how they got there. “I listened to some of the people who shared their experience with the students,” says Norman. “None of them have taken a direct pathway to their role. The students are learning that there are many pathways to different roles in health care.”

“We see this as an opportunity to contribute to the health of our community in addition to providing acute health care services.”

That message really resonated with Skarrat. “One thing I’ve learned is that I don’t have to have all the answers now,” she says. “I can try on different things and take opportunities as they come to create a meaningful career.”

The program’s first offering was so successful that HHS and Mohawk have decided to expand the program to reach even more of our community’s youth. The City of Hamilton’s Neighbourhood Action Strategy team recently joined as a third partner, offering their insight into future learning opportunities for this initiative, based on the youth engagement currently being undertaken. Ultimately, the collaboration will offer multiple sessions a year across various Hamilton Health Sciences sites. “We see this as an opportunity to contribute to the health of our community in addition to providing acute health care services,” says Parker.

For Skarrat, this contribution was a looking glass into her future.

“To actually see what it would be like to be in the hospital environment and juggle all the demands on your time,” she says. “It’s showing me how flexible and good at multitasking you need to be. And as I had my children I saw myself developing those skills. I can see it being a good fit.”

She’s still unsure what her next chapter will look like. But now that she’s had a second taste of the workforce and the classroom, she’s eager for more.