Nursing: The next generation
They came from Mohawk College, Conestoga College and McMaster University. With hospitals feeling the intense staffing pressures of COVID-19, Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) was able to hire students who were just finishing their education and training.
About 100 senior nursing students have been providing care at HHS since February as clinical externs. The new role was created and funded by the province to provide additional health care support during the pandemic when hospitals needed more staff. In fact, the program was so successful, it’s being extended to March 2022 rather than ending in June 2021. It will grow to include medical students, paramedic trainees and respiratory therapy students.
Current clinical externs say they value the hands-on learning experience and the opportunity to answer the call to help during the pandemic.
Assisting wherever needed
Linnea Rainford is in her final year of the Practical Nursing Program at Mohawk College. She works as a clinical extern at Juravinski Hospital supporting orthopedic surgery patients.
“I applied for an extern position because I knew that it would give me priceless experience,” she says. “I wanted to not only learn, but also help ease the burden of COVID-19 as much as I could. My great-grandmother was a nurse during the Second World War, and my mother is also a nurse. I feel proud to follow in my family’s footsteps.”
Externs assist wherever they’re needed, helping patients with activities of daily living such as eating, dressing and bathing. They might also take vital signs such as temperature or a pulse, and assess and help patients who are at risk of falling while walking.
The extern position is viewed as a developmental role, where students develop clinical expertise, specialty knowledge and self-confidence as they move from a student to being a registered health care professional. Externs are supervised by a nurse and/or a regulated health care professional during their time at HHS.
Jumping right in to care
Teena Mathew is in her final year of a bachelor of nursing degree at Conestoga College. She is stationed in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Juravinski Hospital.
“Recently it has been so busy at the ICU with the overwhelming number of COVID cases that the nurses require our help right away,” she says. “We jump right into providing personal care for the patients, repositioning and helping them set up for breakfast.”
Jessica Loiseau is a completing her nursing degree at McMaster University. She is working at McMaster Children’s Hospital, helping to care for pediatric patients recovering from surgery.
“I spend a lot of time answering call bells to support patients and their families and to take the strain off of the nurses during their day,” she says. “I take vitals, do pain assessments, and answer questions for families. I also help set rooms up for our admissions. I have felt welcomed from the first day I started, and the nurses constantly mention how appreciative they are to get the extra helping hand.”
“Beyond grateful for the help”
The hospital receives assistance from the students and supports them in their new roles as well. Kasia McNeil is one of three clinical extern coordinators at HHS who are involved in recruitment and training, providing mentorship to the externs, and helping them to navigate the hospital buildings and systems.
“The most incredible part of the extern program is having the students getting valuable experience while working and seeing them integrate into the teams,” she says. “I ask my externs whether they feel that they are an integral part of the team and each one of them has said yes that they see the impact they are making. They are helping decrease the workload for the nurses on the units and the nurses are beyond grateful to have the extra help.”
HHS is now hiring many of the current clinical externs into nursing positions, to start once they finish their program and are registered with the College of Nurses of Ontario. Their new roles will find them all over the hospital, hired for jobs in the emergency department, pediatrics, the nursing resource team and more.
“I have never felt so much joy”
Mathew says her time at HHS makes her picture her future as a nurse.
“There was one patient who had been intubated since my very first shift in the ICU. He was always in so much pain and could only communicate to us through the grimace on his face. However, we continued to talk to him because we knew he could hear us. During my last shift, I went to go help reposition this same patient and to my utter shock, he was talking to us because the tube had been removed. I have never felt so much joy to hear someone’s voice. It’s the simple things like this that remind me why I decided to become a nurse in the first place.”
To apply for a role as a clinical extern (positions close Monday), a registered nurse or a registered practical nurse, please visit our careers page.