Dr. Chris Nichol doesn’t mince words with a dozen attentive Grade 8 students as he leads an examination of a patient named “Stan”, an animatronic manikin, who in this scenario has just been taken by ambulance to a simulated emergency room (ER) in Camrose following a snowboarding accident.
The teens are part of the group called Young Medical Minds (YMM), who spend six evenings learning about the various professions involved in health care. For two hours a week, they experience the various steps taken during a trauma with Stan — including emergency medical response, ER, diagnostics, treatment and recovery.
“Children need to know there are options for them even when they work in rural areas,” said Carol Breitkreutz, program facilitator for the Young Medical Minds Educational Institute, and health facilitator with Alberta Health Services (AHS). “This program opens up a wide variety of career options for them that they have never even considered. Some are even inspired to get serious about their academics so they can go on and take more training.”
The youth program was launched in 2015 after Dr. Nichol approached Breitkreutz with the idea of reaching out to local young people to get them interested in the health-care field. As a junior high student himself, Dr. Nichol had the opportunity to attend a science program, and was so impressed it stuck with him over the years.
“One of the things I remember most was playing with liquid nitrogen, and the (Smith Clinic) staff think I’m crazy because I still like to play with liquid nitrogen,” said Dr. Nichol with a twinkle in his eye.
The family doctor’s enthusiasm has piqued Grade 8 student Alex Hall’s interest. Fake blood, and the opportunity to suture chicken thighs, gave Alex a good sampling of what’s to come in his future career as a surgeon.
“Normally, you’d have to wait to do these things when you head out to university. It’s cool when you’re 13, 14, 15 and you get the chance to do this awesome program and experience it for yourself. Dr. Nichol is a great role model.”
Students apply to take part in the free program which has been funded with grants and donations in kind from groups such as the Health Science Association of Alberta, Rotary Club of Camrose, University of Alberta Augustana Campus, and St. Mary’s Hospital. Augustana nursing students also take part assisting the younger participants, with volunteers from a variety of health-care groups lending a hand. The program wraps up at Augustana campus, so students can see that they are able to begin their course work right in their own backyard if they choose.
Program volunteer, Linda Postma, RN, an Advanced Care Paramedic and Clinical Educator for AHS EMS Central Zone, believes it is vital to maintain a successful health-care field in the coming years.
“Somebody trained us and took the time to show us and to encourage us in our careers. I’m hoping to give back just a little bit. [Youth] are our future: they’re the ones who are going to be looking after us and we need to look after them.”
Dr. Nichol also enjoys sharing his health-care knowledge with the younger generation, and hopes they’ll one day venture down that path.
“It’s great working out here in rural Alberta,” he said. “If they end up in a rural setting, that’s great, and if they go to the big city, that’s fine as well. As a physician, I’d love to see physicians, but I’d be happy to see X-ray or laboratory techs, nurses, or anyone in the health-care field.”
// Written by Lorena Franchuk, RhPAP