The Graduates

Four years ago, the Winnipeg Health Region and the Winnipeg School Division joined forces to create a medical internship program for Aboriginal students. The program's first class graduated in June.

The 2011 Medical Careers Exploration Program graduates, left to right: Dakota Campbell, Brandan Campbell, Lorelei Everett, Mercedes Henrikson and Candace Sutherland.
The 2011 Medical Careers Exploration Program graduates, left to right: Dakota Campbell, Brandan Campbell, Lorelei Everett, Mercedes Henrikson and Candace Sutherland.
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About the Medical Careers Exploration Program

Student profiles

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Summer 2011

Student intern Mercedes Henrikson watches intently as nurse Vicki Hardy gets ready to change the intravenous catheter on a patient who isn't necessarily being patient.

The patient has two IV catheters in her arm, along with numerous puncture wounds where previous lines had been run. The IV Hardy is concerned with has been in place for four days and needs to be removed. The patient, meanwhile, is nervous, but Hardy convinces her that having another one inserted will help her get well.

After taking the old line out, Hardy gently injects freezing to numb the patient's arm, and quickly inserts the new IV catheter, while reassuring the patient that all is well. At the same time, Hardy explains to Henrikson what she is doing. "When you see a little blood in the needle, you know you have found the vein," says Hardy. "Then you give a little push, and it's done."

When it's all over, the vascular access team nurse and her student document what they've done on the patient's chart, roll the equipment cart out of the room, and scrub their hands. Soon, they will be heading off to another ward in the vast complex that is the Health Sciences Centre to insert an IV in another patient.

For Henrikson, the chance to shadow a nurse as she goes about her duties is a dream come true. A student at Children of the Earth High School, Henrikson has wanted to be a doctor since she was a child. She knows this experience will help her immeasurably as she pursues her goal.

But she is not the only student with big dreams. In fact, there are five Children of the Earth students who are interning as part of the Medical Careers Exploration Program. Started in 2007 by the Winnipeg Health Region and the Winnipeg School Division, the program provides Aboriginal students from Children of the Earth with hands-on experience in clinical settings at Health Sciences Centre and the Pan Am Clinic, with a view to helping them launch careers in health care.

The group, which includes Henrikson, Lorelei Everett, Candace Sutherland, Brandan Campbell and Dakota Campbell, was the first class to go through the program, which is the only one of its kind in Canada. By the time this story goes to print at the end of June, the quintet will have graduated from the program and begun making plans for the fall.

But today, there are things to learn. While Henrikson teams up with Hardy, Everett is learning about premature babies in Children's Hospital, Sutherland is shadowing doctors in the GH7 high-observation unit, Brandon Campbell is in the CT scanning room and Dakota Campbell is shadowing nurses on the GH3 ward at Health Sciences Centre.

Henrikson says the program provided her with insight into the world of health care as she prepares to attend the University of Manitoba in the fall. "I've followed the surgeons, the sports medicine docs, and been in consultations with people needing surgery," she says of her experiences in the program.

It helped her decide what line of medicine she will pursue. "I originally wanted to be a GP, but I decided to pursue oncology. I got a placement on the oncology ward at HSC, where I worked with cancer patients. I could see how much they need help, and I decided I want to help them," she says.

The internship program has been a huge success, says Lorne Belmore, Principal of Children of the Earth High School. "In my experience, the closest most students would come to working in a hospital setting would be the gift shop," he says. "It's unheard of for students to sit in on surgery, for students to shadow nurses on a ward or learn first-hand how an MRI or CT scanner works. The MCEP students get to do all this, and more, for four years of their high school career."

Dr. Wayne Hildahl, Chief Operating Officer of the Pan Am Clinic, helped initiate the internship program after talking with his wife, Rita Hildahl, who is a Winnipeg School Division trustee. "She got me together with Lorne Belmore and pushed us until we got the school board and senior management at the Winnipeg Health Region to buy into the idea, which actually wasn't that hard to do. We started to meet and developed a curriculum - one that we hope is different, meaningful and sustainable."

One of the program's goals is to address the fact that only three per cent of health-care workers in Winnipeg are Aboriginal, says Hildahl. "This is a relatively untapped population of very bright students who don't have any role models in health care. When I went to med school, I knew people and had friends in medicine. When we set up the program, we knew we had to create mentors for the Aboriginal community, so we asked our staff to take on that role," says Hildahl, adding that everyone at the Pan Am Clinic has embraced their part with enthusiasm.

Mentors are important because the health-care system can sometimes seem remote. "Their (the students') interaction with medical professionals might come from going to the emergency room or a walk-in clinic and waiting hours to see a doctor. Then, it seems like they're out of there in five minutes," says Belmore.

Nurse Geri Lowry looks on as student Lorelei Everett practises dressing a wound.

As part of the program, the students take courses at Children of the Earth to prepare them for what they will experience in the internships at Pan Am and HSC. This theory-then-practice strategy gives the students a knowledge base and the confidence to learn new things. During their time in the program, students spend a total of six weeks interning at Pan Am and HSC, usually in half-day stints over the course of a week.

Student Candace Sutherland, who plans to become a nurse, has watched surgery done on rotator cuffs, hips and knees at Pan Am. She recently worked with Hildahl, helping as he injected cortisone into a patient's sore joint. Her studies at high school gave her a good understanding of what the doctor was doing for the patient.

"I don't know what I'd like to specialize in once I become a nurse. It could be sports medicine, or I could work with people who have diabetes," she says, adding she plans to take foundation courses for nursing at Red River College. "My uncle has diabetes, and I know a lot of people with diabetes," she says. "Or I might work with babies or youth."

At HSC, Sutherland got to see how heart monitors work, and did a stint in the casting room. This was where she discovered that the ankle she broke last March hadn't been set right. She'll be going for surgery to correct the problem, and will experience the health-care system from the point of view of a patient.

She has also shown how determined and steady she can be, while watching doctors insert a vascular catheter into a neck vein of a patient on the GH7 high-observation ward at HSC. Sutherland was smack in the middle of a group watching the doctors as they worked with a long, thin needle on the sedated patient's neck. She helped move some of the equipment, including holding disposal collection boxes for the used items.

"That was really interesting," she said after the procedure was finished.

Like Sutherland, Lorelei Everett is also interested in pursing a career in nursing. The young woman with the long, chestnut-coloured hair loves the human side of medicine, relating to the patients and worrying over their care. She's been accepted at the University of Manitoba this fall, and hopes to specialize in either working with the elderly or possibly - especially after an afternoon at Children's Hospital - with women and their newborn babies.

She spent last summer at Deer Lodge Centre, working with the geriatric residents, helping the nurses transfer the patients, taking them on outings, and keeping them company.

Everett has the touch, says Geri Lowry, a prehabilitation nurse at the Pan Am Clinic. She has encouraged the student to look into taking an intensive care unit course on top of a nursing degree, as that would allow her to work anywhere in the nursing field.

"I think a good nurse has to be a good listener. I know you're not supposed to get too attached to your patients, but how can you care for them if you don't like people?" asks Everett. "There were two old men I liked at Deer Lodge. One of them died when I wasn't there, and that was hard for me. I've had to evaluate people who couldn't speak, and I found that to be hard, too."

During her internship at Pan Am and HSC, Everett was able to see how patients are being helped by health-care professionals. She's seen children suffering from cancer, and been in the burn ward at Children's Hospital. She's watched new mothers learning about their newborns right after delivery at Women's Hospital. She's seen women struggling with the news that they have cervical cancer.

At the Pan Am Clinic, she accompanied Dr. Jason Old into the operating room and watched while he set a broken collarbone on a patient. It's something she has sympathy for, having broken her own collarbone when she was eight.

Her sympathetic nature was rewarded recently when she won the Fred Douglas Humanitarian "Learning by Caring" award, for her work with seniors at Deer Lodge Centre and for being a student in the internship program.

Dakota Campbell is also focused on becoming a nurse. She first became aware of the Medical Careers Exploration Program in Grade 9 while at Isaac Newton School, when her friend Candace Sutherland told her that she was considering a career in health care. Originally, she thought she wanted to be a doctor, but after shadowing nurses, she decided that was the career path for her.

The three-year internship has been an interesting, she says. She almost didn't make it through her first live surgery, back when she started the program in Grade 10.

"It was at Pan Am, and they were doing surgery on a person's shoulder. I almost fainted, I was so light-headed. I think it was looking at the blood coming out. So they took me out of the room," she recalls. "But I knew I wanted to see this through, so I went right back into the room once I felt better. I'm more used to it now, tougher."

On this day at Health Sciences Centre, she's shadowing the nurses on the GH3 ward, watching as they care for the patients, changing IVs, giving medications and changing bandages.

"One man had a wound here (chest), which was held together by staples. The nurses were cleaning the wound to see if it was healing," she says. "That was tough to watch because it was gross but interesting. The nurses were used to it, and I better be when I'm a nurse."

Brandan Campbell, meanwhile, is the techie in the group. He's considering taking a rehabilitation assistant course at South Winnipeg Technical College.

A recent visit to the CT scanning room at HSC demonstrates why. As CT charge technologist Cathy Erickson talks about the difference between 16- and 64-slice CT scanners, Campbell is hanging on every word. The pair discusses how a CT scanner is an X-ray machine that focuses on soft tissue, and how to read the data on the machine after the scans are complete.

Campbell asks a question about why some patients are given a colourless fluid to drink, while others have it injected into their IV lines. This is a dye, or "contrast," that lights up the area the scan is focused on, says Erickson, and it takes less than a minute for the contrast to work its way through the blood system.

"That's right," agrees Campbell. "It takes 21 seconds for a blood cell to circulate through your body and back to your heart. It means that the CT scanner works a lot quicker than the MRI machine."

Erickson presses a button to inject the dye into a patient, and they watch the read-out screen as the bolus of dye lights up different parts of the patient's vascular system. "This is so cool," comments Campbell as Erickson scrolls through the pictures taken by the scanner, showing what looks like a stop-gap animation slice of the middle of the body, from the top of the lungs down to the top of the hip joints, with a bright patch as the dye moves through the patient's kidneys.

Nurse Dawn Christenson helps student Brandan Campbell with his technique.

"I never expected to do anything like this when I started the program," says Campbell. "I thought we'd just be doing tours, so it's cool that we get to do all this. I really get an idea of how many different jobs there are in health care."

The Grade 12 graduating class has had the same home-room teacher at Children of the Earth for three years. Rina Whitford has taught them all their core subjects, except for English, plus the Medical Careers Exploration course, which is designed to support the clinical internships. It includes material about the body's systems, anatomy, physiology, and also customer service. The students also learn traditional Aboriginal ways of healing and medicine, and work on information communication technologies to enhance their computer skills.

Along with this medically focused course material, the students take precalculus math and advanced science courses, which will help them make the transition to post-secondary studies.

Whitford says it's both exciting and bittersweet to see her first group of students graduate. After teaching them for three years, she has come to the point where she's their mentor as well as their teacher. "Even if they don't go into a health-care career, they are still very welleducated and can go on to university or college," says Whitford, who says her students have become like sisters and brothers.

The program is designed to prepare students for a future in health care by reinforcing the skills necessary to excel in university, such as study skills, literacy, theoretical sciences, and mathematics.

"The classes use the Big Picture Learning method, where the teacher sets goals and projects, and then enables the students to complete these," says Belmore. "We knew we couldn't do traditional education with these students - the 'standand- deliver' model where the teacher lectures and they read textbooks. We got rid of the overhead projectors in the classrooms and moved in SMART boards and computers. We had to do this. If you look at the top ten jobs in 2004, you'll find that six of them didn't exist in 2000, and that's thanks to the incredible changes in technology."

Because the MCEP students are exposed to medical terminology, they should be more comfortable in a post-secondary setting. It also shows up in their practicum work.

"I was working with a Grade 10 student in the clinic, and we were looking at an X-ray of an interesting fracture," says Hildahl. "The student looked at the X-ray and told me it was a fracture of the first metatarsal. He was right! All the students arrive like this: well-prepped. The level of knowledge they have is impressive."

The internship program has the ability to open many doors and provide opportunities for inner-city students who would otherwise not consider a career in health care, or attend a post-secondary institution.

"These students show amazing resiliency," says Whitford, citing the struggles many of the students at Children of the Earth go through. Poverty, gangs, and addictions are barriers to health and higher education. "But for my students, school is a place where they feel safe, where they are encouraged and accepted."

So today, these MCEP students are realizing a dream. Students who complete the program and then choose not to pursue a career in health care will still have benefited by attaining the skills necessary to succeed in any field they want. The program is developing stronger students, with higher levels of critical thinking and academic skills.

"The MCEP students have a positive effect on the rest of the school. Because we have MCEP, we can offer high-end classes, like precalculus, to students in the general population," says Belmore. "The internship students are excellent role models for those in Grades 10 and 11."

With a full cohort of 12 students each in Grades 10 and 11 coming along behind them, the five grads of 2011 are at the front of a wave of Aboriginal health-care workers.

However, as Hildahl puts it, "When a patient sees one of these students as a nurse, come 10 years from now, I want them to see a nurse, not an Aboriginal nurse. You can see it when the students work at the clinic here. They fit in. They're confident, they're enjoying what they're learning, and I can't wait until we can employ them."

Susie Strachan is a communications advisor with the Winnipeg Health Region.

Wave: Summer 2011

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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