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Yukon University sees more interest in nursing amid COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is motivating more people to pursue a career in healthcare, says a program chair at Yukon University.

New grads needed to relieve stressed front-line workers, says department chair

Marc Nievares, a student in the practical nursing program at Yukon University, is feeling inspired these days as he pursues his studies during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic is motivating more people to pursue a career in healthcare, says a program chair at Yukon University.

"I have never seen interest in the practical nursing program like it is now. And some of the people who contact me say it's because of COVID-19," says Catherine Bradbury, chair of the university's school of health, education and human services.

"They actually see what nurses are doing, and they say, 'I want to be that.' Which is pretty remarkable."

The practical nursing program used to take a class every two years but in 2019 switched to a yearly class with a maximum 16 students. Having a yearly course is still considered a pilot project and could become permanent if demand holds up.

This year, 14 students have signed on which is two more than last year.

Protocols in class

Most classes at Yukon University have moved online this year. However, students in the university's health programs are still on campus.

Like healthcare workers on the front lines, they're wearing scrubs and masks. Class sizes in laboratories have been halved to a maximum of seven students. 

Students are constantly washing their hands and adapting in other ways too, like relying more on medical training devices such as mannequins. The university has patient simulators which can imitate breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure, and they help students train for monitoring a patient's vital signs.

'We need well-educated and resilient nurses in the workforce. At this time more than ever,' said Catherine Bradbury, chair of the university's school of health, education and human services. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Often this kind of training would be done with volunteers, or by students on each other.

Bradbury adds that some things, like learning to put in an IV drip, just can't be done online.

"In the fall we realized that our deferral of some of the lab courses and clinical courses couldn't continue. I think it's obvious this is no time to pause nursing education, we need well-educated and resilient nurses in the workforce. At this time more than ever," she said.

Students return to long term care

Nursing students will soon be working with real patients again in Whitehorse.

Clinical visits were suspended last spring but Bradbury says the department now has approvals to send students back into Whitehorse long-term care homes. They will be working in personal care such as helping with bathing, feeding, "spending a lot of personal time with people," and working with medical assessments.

Practical nursing student Codi Ingram checks on Sam the simulator. More work is being done with training devices like this during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Other increasingly complex clinical programs will follow as students later upgrade to caring for wounds, inserting IVs and other tasks. 

Marc Nievares is looking forward to working as a practical nurse despite COVID-19, seeing a real opportunity to help people.

He is studying in Whitehorse after working as a nursing home attendant for six years. He says that work inspired him to become a nurse. 

"I have been surrounded by nurses. I love what they can do, and what they do with the people. They help a lot."

Grads will be in high demand

Teneil Arcand is another second-year student in practical nursing. She hasn't decided where she will go after graduation. But she knows there will be plenty of demand for her skills.

"I am really excited to be able to get out there and start," she said.

Students in their second-year of practical nursing are scheduled to graduate next summer. They will then be required to write a licensing exam in June. 

Teneil Arcand, a 2nd-year student in the practical nursing program, says she's looking forward to working with patients. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Students beginning this year in practical nursing could graduate by May 2022.

Bradbury says she expects nursing grads will be highly sought to replace front-line workers.

"They're going to go into a nursing workforce that has been in this highly-stressed situation for a year and a half. And I think it will call upon them in a different way," she said.

"I often tell them they have an opportunity to learn what no class before them has ever learned."

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