Helping today’s learners become tomorrow’s health care professionals

Microsoft Teams Meeting photo Back Row-  Nancy MacConnell-Maxner (director), Doug Iwasaki (Professional Practice Coordinator) Middle Row: Angela Lutz (Coord WZ), Britney MacKinnon (Coor EZ), Jackie Spiers (Professional Practice Leader/ Manager) Front Row”
Microsoft Teams Meeting photo. Back Row: Nancy MacConnell-Maxner (director), Doug Iwasaki (Professional Practice Coordinator) Middle Row: Angela Lutz (Coord WZ), Britney MacKinnon (Coor EZ), Jackie Spiers (Professional Practice Leader/ Manager) Front Row: Michelle Sperry (Coord CZ) Missing: Lynn Hoeg (Coord NZ)

As the largest academic health sciences network in Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia Health is committed to building capacity in our healthcare workforce through supporting a culture of lifelong learning and professional development across all areas of health. A critical component of learning is placements for students at Nova Scotia Health, which ensure that this new generation of health care professionals can successfully join the workforce.

Student Learner Placement is a provincial team that is part of Nova Scotia Health’s Interprofessional Practice and Learning portfolio. They work closely with academic partners across Canada, as well as staff, managers, and program leaders within the organization, to arrange unpaid hands-on clinical and non-clinical placements for post-secondary students from a wide range of disciplines (with the exception of medicine). The team has a placement coordinator assigned to each zone, a professional practice coordinator who supports allied health placements, a professional practice leader and manager, and a provincial director

“Our organization embraces a learner-centric mandate to ensure our students receive education of the highest quality, including meaningful placements that prepare them for their career,” said Jackie Spiers, Professional Practice Leader, and Manager of Student Learner Placement.

The team also arranges sharing of expertise, professional development, and maintenance of competency placements for health care professionals employed by various Canadian institutions, such as the Department of National Defence, EHS LifeFlight and hospitals in other provinces.

“Though it might seem like an extra task, supporting students is essential to ensuring that front line staff are working in an environment which is adequately staffed,” continued Spiers.

Placements are managed by Student Learner Placement using the Health Services Placement Network (HSPnet) database. This helps process thousands of requests for students and learners.

“We are the in-between contact and link for schools,” said Spiers. “They let us know that they need placements, and we reach out to the managers to see what placements they can support. We are then able to let the school know what is available.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has made arranging placements a little more difficult, the team was able to continue supporting learner placements and ensure that there was access to all the protective measures required for placements.

In the past year, the team took students from 53 placement agencies, and arranged 6,556 placements. This includes 4,371 nursing placements (RNs; PNs; NPs; post-degree diploma nurses; and specialty nurses). The remaining 2,185 placements represented a variety of 40 other health and non-health disciplines, including Medical Office Assistant, Paramedic; Pharmacist, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Nuclear Medicine Technologist; Radiology Technologist; Sonography, and Respiratory Therapist.

“Flexible staff, flexible schools, and flexible students have been the key to our success,” said Spiers. “We worked with Occupational Health and IPAC to ensure that students had the correct information to be safe and ensure that our patients are safe.”

Although there are a lot of successes and highlights to date, Spiers notes that Student Learner Placement is experiencing an increase in requests from academic partners along with a decrease in the number of staff who are able to take students.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find enough placements,” said Spiers. “Staff are maxed, units are short-staffed, and can’t take on more. But the good news is that once these students are trained, they will be able to provide much needed help.”

“Despite the challenges, there continues to be dedicated and motivated staff stepping forward to support these students and we are extremely grateful for this dedication,” continued Spiers. “We have heard directly from managers with suggestions for units that are eager to welcome students that haven’t been on our radar before. We are appreciative of all suggestions we get from managers and staff regarding meaningful placements that are available for students”.

And it’s clear that the students are also incredibly grateful for the time and support their preceptors have been able to provide.

“Within days of starting practice with Matt, he had bought into my ability and potential in a way that I wouldn’t for several months, and in many ways still haven’t,” said Nicole, a nurse practitioner, about her experience as a student. “His constant belief in me spurred my learning forward and gave me the confidence and drive I needed to continue on my journey during what was one of the most hectic and challenging parts of my life. By guidance, but even more so by example, Matt taught me how it’s the team that truly makes a practice work and cemented to me how all members of a group should be valued.”

“He shared his knowledge and discussion in a way that never made me feel like anything less than a colleague and an equal. He vouched for me to learn, grow, and remain on the South Shore after graduation, and is the person who ensured that happened. The time he invested in me was immeasurable in affecting the trajectory of my career and my life as an NP. […] I am, and will continue to be, the NP that I am because of preceptors like Matt.”

For more information about Student Learner Placement, visit the website.

Nova Scotia Health’s Innovation Hub is working with key partners in the province and is well positioned and well experienced to offer training, supervision, preceptor support and mentorship, and transition to practice programs. This, along with other targeted strategic initiatives, is helping to enhance the recruitment and retention of the nursing workforce and other healthcare professionals in Nova Scotia.