This story is featured in the Fall 2016 edition of Showcase: The Experiential Learning Issue. View the complete publication.
Helping older people was always an interest for second-year Nursing student Laura Christie, but her passion began to really take shape when she started work at a dementia care home.
“During my time there I witnessed so many talented nurses doing incredibly important work. On a daily basis, I saw that they were able to instantly connect with the residents and, with an individual who has dementia, that can be a very difficult task,” Ms. Christie recalls.
Curiosity opens doors to hands-on learning
It was that experience which led Ms. Christie to Trent’s compressed Nursing program and, once at Trent, Ms. Christie discovered the Trent Centre for Aging & Society (TCAS).
“It’s a funny story, actually” she laughed. “I have always been interested in courses that focus on the life course, and on my first day at Trent, I saw a sign for TCAS and thought; ‘That’s kind of neat; I wonder what they do?’ So I popped my head in the door and was welcomed in by one of the research assistants, who invited me to a few of their upcoming events.”
“That’s a classic Trent story,” says Dr. Mark Skinner, director of TCAS, and Canada research chair in rural aging, health, and social care, when told of Ms. Christie’s memory. “That kind of relaxed collegiality is embedded here at Trent, and really interesting things happen because of it. Part of our mandate at the Centre is to train the next generation of critically informed aging studies scholars, many of whom come to us, as Laura did, through genuine curiosity as well as a desire to turn theory into practice.”
Credit with impact
Students come to TCAS from a variety of interdisciplinary backgrounds ranging from Canadian Studies to Geography, Nursing, Sociology, and beyond. The work they undertake is meant to be important to Canadians and have an impact on the community. For example, several nursing students enrolled in the community-based nursing practice course have recently completed studies facilitated by TCAS that went on to be incorporated into the City of Peterborough’s age- friendly plan.
In another project, Sociology student Louise Campbell scanned services provided by Community Care Peterborough to document overlaps and gaps in service. According to her supervisor, TCAS executive member, Dr. Peri Ballantyne, “Ms. Campbell provided an excellent presentation to the Community Care Board of Directors and a thorough report on her project, which was of great use to the agency.”
TCAS faculty fellow and instructor with the Trent/ Fleming School of Nursing, Ann MacLeod, echos Dr. Ballantyne’s assessment. Ms. MacLeod is a clinical instructor who supports preceptors and students’ experiential learning through site visits and weekly student seminars. “Nursing is a practice-based profession, which means experiential learning is integral to becoming a professional nurse,” she says, adding: “Community health placements are driven by the community’s needs. Students have done a variety of projects, such as creating patient centred care videos used for staff development, working with Syrian newcomers adjusting to their new lives in Canada, and supporting Peterborough to become a more age-friendly community.”
Helping Canada become truly age-friendly
Ms. Christie’s project will create a collection of written narratives that illustrate issues around social inclusion and the built environment that older adults in Peterborough face. The narratives will then be used in the age-friendly plan to further public awareness of these issues, which will help the plan gain momentum.
“I know that working with older adults is where I am headed,” Ms. Christie says. “My goal with this placement is to get a glimpse into the lived experiences of seniors. I think it will help broaden my perspective when caring for patients in the future, to really see and understand the person behind whatever he or she is facing.”