Concurrent program accelerates career path for future nurses

Nursing wasn’t part of their original career plans, but two Brock University students are happy they shifted course.

While most Brock students are on summer break, Vinita Hatanaka Chotai (BPhEd ’09, BSc ’21) and Kodi Wright (BSc ’19) are working towards completing an intense 20-month Bachelor of Nursing/Master of Nursing (BN/MN) program.

At a time when chronic nursing shortages are creating health-care challenges across Canada, Brock’s program allows students to graduate more quickly than traditional four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) programs while offering a master’s component not included in other accelerated nursing programs.

The first and only concurrent BN/MN degree in Canada, the program is designed to build on the skills and knowledge of students who have already completed a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Hatanaka entered Brock’s BN/MN program with two undergraduate degrees and seven years of experience working as a kinesiologist. She was on track to become a physiotherapist but ultimately decided it wasn’t the right move for her.

She applied to Brock’s BN/MN because of the career opportunities it could provide. In particular, she valued how the master’s component of the program focuses on leadership skills and course-based research, which is beneficial to students like her who want to pursue nursing leadership and management roles after graduating.

A group of nursing students gather around a row of desks to complete an exercise in class.

Vinita Hatanaka Chotai (BPhEd ’09, BSc ’21), seated middle centre, and her BN/MN classmates participated in an interactive lesson about blood types and donation eligibility on Friday, May 5. Students were asked to identify their own blood types and then find a classmate with a blood type that was compatible for donation.

“I like how many different career paths there are in nursing,” she said. “There are nurses in the operating rooms working side-by-side with physicians, nurse practitioners providing family health care, charge nurses and hospital managers leading teams, and nurses working in public health and government organizations educating and advocating.”

Like Hatanaka, Wright found herself on a new career path. With a Bachelor of Science in Medical Science, she hoped to study optometry, but the timing wasn’t right. Instead, she decided on nursing and completed two terms of an accelerated BScN at another university. Once she learned about Brock’s BN/MN program, she switched so she could graduate with master’s level skills and experience.

Wright has especially enjoyed Brock’s clinical placements, which start immediately in the first term of the program. After learning about a topic in lab instruction, students are placed in a variety of specializations at hospitals in Niagara or Hamilton, including general medicine, surgery, cardiac care, kidney care, public health, mental health, pediatrics, the intensive care unit, and labour and delivery.

“It’s nice there isn’t a lull period — everything you learn is put into practice right away,” she said.

Wright also found great value when her class visited the Alzheimer Society of Niagara and students experienced simulations that imitate sensory deficits that can occur in older adults.

Students walked around with popcorn kernels in their shoes to simulate the tingling sensation of neuropathy that diabetics feel in their fingers and feet. Special glasses impaired their vision for different types of eye diseases and cotton balls in their ears limited their hearing.

“It was really interesting because it showed how difficult it is for chronic care patients to function and perform regular activities,” said Wright.

Simulations also regularly take place within lab instruction using high-fidelity mannequins that experience real-life symptoms and situations for a variety of conditions. For example, a baby simulator cries and wiggles its arm when it’s in distress and its chest and mouth turn blue to show it’s not receiving enough oxygen.

Students learn about mental health illnesses, such as suicidal ideation, by interacting with actors expressing symptoms.

Hatanaka said role-playing is a great way to practise responding to scenarios in a safe environment before students’ mental health clinical placement.

“When you talk to someone who is depressed and thinking about suicide, it’s different than what you read in a textbook,” she said. “You see their face, their nonverbal expressions and tears in their eyes.”

Both Wright and Hatanaka said one of the most valuable skills they are honing in the program is professional communication.

“Nursing isn’t an easy job. You see things that make you want to cry,” said Hatanaka. “We learn how to keep it together so we can provide hope to patients and advocate for them and their families.”

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