International knowledge exchanges can be an incredible learning tool – especially in the field of healthcare.
Dr. Kim English, a professor with the Trent/Fleming School of Nursing, is a Canadian ambassador for the Global Rural Nursing Exchange Network (GRNEN) – a global group that shares knowledge, education and resources related to rural health and rural nursing.
“GRNEN aims to support and engage peers working in rural areas around the world to both understand their nursing context and share information in areas of nursing that might need assistance,” explains Professor English.
When approached earlier this year by a faculty member from the University of Texas - Arlington, to submit a funding proposal to create a virtual exchange between nursing students in Canada and the United States, Prof. English jumped at the opportunity.
“The aim of the exchange was to understand the similarities and differences in rural health and nursing issues between our two countries,” says Prof. English. The proposal was successful, funding was granted, and the exchange ran from September to December as part of a clinical placement.
Technology a great enabler
The two groups were able to meet virtually and discuss topics of mutual interest, including access issues, rural hospital closings, education for rural nursing, and how the funding approaches in the two countries compare. A highlight was a virtual tour of rural Texas hospital complete with a robotic tour guide who showed two student cohorts and faculty around with a visit to the emergency department, a rural outreach clinic, and labour and delivery area.
Some expected and unexpected discoveries
Some interesting discoveries emerged from the exchange.
“They couldn’t get over the fact that we have rural and remote settings where nurses provide all of the care with access to physicians or acute care service by computer or phone,” shares Prof. English. “They were also astounded at the number of times a person might have to be medivacked from some of these remote areas and the cost and that the cost was not borne by the patient.”
As for the project’s American counterparts, they helped dispel some myths about how their system works. While cost is a factor for the patient in the American privately funded model, patients who can’t afford to pay are not turned away or denied care.
One commonality was the prevalence of chronic conditions like obesity and heart issues. Another was rural hospital closures, though for different reasons. “Canadian hospital closures tend to be in northern and remote communities and are mainly because of staffing shortages, whereas the U.S. closures are mostly due to funding shortages,” says Brittany Cyr, a third-year Traill College student in the Compressed Nursing program who participated.
Being able to discuss interventions to increase access and return more nurses was beneficial. “We talked a lot about telehealth, and how it could potentially be implemented on a wider scale in the two countries to help increase access and reduce some of the barriers,” says Brianne Elbers, an Otonabee College student also in her third year of the Compressed Nursing program.
An opportunity that benefits both students and practitioners
“It’s such an amazing opportunity and one that I think benefits both students and practitioners,” says Prof. English, who is hopeful that more funding will be available for future virtual exchanges.
Brianne agrees: “I think it will benefit future students because you both take part in the same sort of learning experience to expand their knowledge on health inequities in rural and remote communities and hopefully be able to bring if forth to your future practice.”
The same virtual exchange will run from January to March with a new cohort of students.