Newly conferred graduates from a range of programs in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences (FAHS) have pulled together this past year to contribute to the COVID-19 pandemic response.
Responsibilities ranged from assisting in public health call centres, designing and working in vaccination clinics, being on the front line in hospital and clinic settings, providing support in long-term care homes, and more. Across the Niagara region, Ontario and the world, Brock FAHS students were lending a helping hand.
“I applaud the efforts of all of our students who worked, volunteered and continued with modified experiential education, practicums and clinical placements throughout this past year,” says FAHS Dean Peter Tiidus. “Not only have you been learning, but you have also filled much needed gaps in the health-care system with your expertise, skills and commitment.”
Each day, FAHS leadership, faculty and staff are still learning about the broad scope of involvement and volunteer hours students have invested into the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities across the lifespan.
From fielding phone calls to administering vaccines, Brock Nursing grads Qynn Honsberger, Rebecca Balyk and Jordan Gallant spent the last term of their fourth year supporting Niagara residents through a clinical placement with Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH), Pandemic Response Division.
Initially, the trio began working on a project for the COVID-19 call centre to provide a tiered response to support nurse capacity. They used different types of call data available to them and other internal systems to create answers for some of the most common questions being fielded. They then organized and formatted it into a user-friendly and more efficient way for nurses and new staff to access internally.
On completion of this initiative, they each branched out into different areas of support, which included working virtually with COVID-19 patients to provide resources and do contact tracing; working with school outbreak teams on possible exposures and measures; and being deployed to the mass immunization clinics for inoculations.
“We each have experienced hospital nursing,” says Gallant. “This was a completely different type of nursing, the core is still there, but how we adapted to meet client-centred care and how it was delivered, over the phone, was just as rewarding.”
Also supporting the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics were Brock students enrolled in the Interprofessional Education for Quality Improvement Program (I-EQUIP).
“The project teams supported plans for all of the clinics in Niagara to give NRPH a place to start when setting up the sites,” says Associate Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning and Health Sciences Associate Professor Madelyn Law, who is the founder and Director of I-EQUIP. “For example, they mapped out how patients would flow through the facilities, where people should sit and where the vaccination tables should be.”
Through the pandemic, I-EQUIP is still functioning and providing value to community partners even through a virtual environment. Students demonstrated their abilities to continue their projects with forward thinking purpose.
“A lot of interesting health innovations are coming forward due to this crisis,” says Law. “I don’t want to discount how difficult this has been and still is, but we have learned how to make change in a positive way.
“Our students were still able to meet virtually with our community partners and plan projects to support health professionals with documents and process mapping on topics like social prescribing, mental health and care transitions,” Law says. “In the future, our graduates will be the ones who step up and say, ‘We’ve got this, because we’ve done this before.’”
Maintaining some community partnerships during COVID-19 has also been a challenge because many non-profits and community-based agencies faced so much uncertainty.
“When COVID-19 hit, how we engaged with many service-learning agencies that help the community changed because they went from assessing whether they have capacity to mentor a practicum student to, in many cases, just trying to keep a roof over their heads,” says Health Sciences Undergraduate Experiential Learning Co-ordinator Janet Westbury. “We made every effort to let them know we have students who want to help, as well as think out of the box, to expand the borders of where we are going to do placements, locally and globally.”
During the past year, every Department of Health Sciences student who wanted or needed a practicum had one. Among the many great examples of student contributions, which included placements at Niagara Health, Halton Region, YMCA-YWCA of Guelph and Thames Valley Children’s Centre near London, Ont., one that Westbury is most proud of was with Wadadee Cares in Windhoek, Namibia.
“Wadadee in the Damara language means ‘everyone is welcome,’” says Westbury.
Wadadee Cares focuses on sustainable investment in children and their homes, including attending to their daily needs, education, safety and health. They support an orphanage that is currently home to 20 children, a soup kitchen that typically feeds 800 children, and five schools.
“Stepping into a role with Wadadee Cares, which has been a community partner with Brock University for six years, during the COVID-19 pandemic, may have posed some challenges,” says Westbury. “But Medical Sciences grads Valerie Pagnotta and Gabriel Costantini along with third-year Medical Sciences student Krissy Oghinan didn’t let that stop them.”
The Township in Katutura, which Wadadee Cares supports, is a very marginalized, with very low-income demographic. There was little to no age-friendly information about COVID-19. In response, Pagnotta, Costantini and Oghinan created culturally appropriate infographics to go into the schools to help educate children on what COVID-19 is, how it’s spread and how it can be prevented through social distancing and handwashing.
The infographics were geared for children ages five to 12 and work together with a health education programming document for teachers that includes lesson guides for the organization.
“This group worked very hard to create images and messaging the children would identify with, but this is only one example,” says Westbury. “There are so many great students who have contributed to community initiatives through experiential learning initiatives this year.”
Students in Brock’s Recreation and Leisure Studies Degree Pathway for Professionals, a program designed for employed individuals, contended with the unique challenges of working full time while finishing the final requirements for their degree.
“I was fortunate to speak with and understand the various personal and occupational hurdles our professional pathway students had to overcome during the pandemic, including working in large health-care organizations,” says Recreation and Leisure Studies Undergraduate Program Co-ordinator and Academic Advisor Michael Fawkes. “Although we were not able to see each other directly, we remained in touch on a regular basis.”
Over the past 16 months, six students employed at St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, Ont., persevered through various stages of lockdowns and the risk of close contact with COVID patients. Vacation time was limited during the initial stages of the pandemic, making finding any extra time to complete coursework a challenge.
“The commitment this cohort of students had toward completing their degree while balancing the welfare of their clients, their employer and their families has been quite remarkable,” says Fawkes. “I particularly want to celebrate Shelby Fitzmorris, Chelsey Roberts, Lisa Roselli, Tichelle Schram, Brittany Tiseo and Bernadette Welch whose work at St. Joseph’s in London represent the Surgite attitude we like all our Brock students and alumni to embrace.”