09:36 AM


Mohawk and Hamilton Health Sciences expand learning opportunities for students from non-health care programs

Mohawk College health care students have been gaining critical clinical experience at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) sites for decades. They are now joined by students doing placements in hospitals from a range of other programs, including business, computer programming, marketing and media.

Over the last couple of years, the two organizations have been taking a systematic look at broadening the experiential learning partnership beyond traditional health care disciplines.

The possibilities are limitless, says Paul Armstrong, Mohawk‘s Vice President Academic.

“HHS is a large, complex organization and one of the biggest employers of Mohawk graduates. The breadth of experience that HHS can offer our students is very wide. We have joined with HHS in applied research projects over the last five to six years and as we grow our capacity, HHS has needs and problems that we can help solve,“ he said.

Close to 3,000 students in 35 programs do placements each year at HHS. Their work adds up to close to 188,000 hours annually and Mohawk students report extremely high satisfaction rates about their experiences at HHS.

“We count on HHS and other partnerships to provide placements for so many of our core programs that require experiential learning opportunities. That‘s really core to what we do,“ said Lori Koziol, Dean of the School of Health.

Sometimes Mohawk approaches HHS when it is developing curriculum that requires a placement. Other times, HHS comes to the college with a challenge it thinks Mohawk could help tackle, she said.

“It‘s a very robust, collaborative partnership. Both sides are very open-minded and open to innovative opportunities.“

That is opening a wide range of emerging opportunities in fields of study not traditionally associated with a hospital.

“We‘ve been very proud of what we've been able to provide in quality experiential learning,“ said John Parker, Director of Interprofessional Development at HHS. “It's a two-way benefit. Students are provided what we think is a world-calibre experiential learning opportunity and as they learn in clinical settings, they are contributing to our staff's efforts in delivering quality care.“

The students bring fresh new perspectives, says Parker. “Health care students bring great value and we knew non-health care students could make similar contributions. We are very energized by the results of some pilot projects over the last two years in areas such as computer programming, business analytics and public relations.“

None of this would be possible without one of Canada's best teams of HHS clinical educators, managers and staff, said Parker. Staff across HHS were asked to identify challenges that students could help solve to improve quality of care and patient experience. Parker was flooded with ideas.

One of them was training for hospital staff around the handling of toxic agents such as chemotherapy drugs and radioactive isotopes.

The project, led by Barb Scott RN, Mary Millo RN, Caroline Fellows-Smith RN and Diana Zelinski of HHS Interprofessional Development, saw Mohawk computer programming students develop a gamingbased app to help staff apply the regulations and optimize compliance in a more engaging way.

Providing a diversity of experiences opens eyes to the possibilities in health care, says Parker.

“When they applied for computer programming, not one of them had considered health care as a possible sector for employment.“

Digital media students have produced a number of video productions for HHS, including one that highlights an innovative collaboration with Mohawk in which registered practical nurses employed at HHS can study to become registered nurses while still working full time. This project was led by Dianne Norman, HHS Manager Student Affairs.

“The digital media students created a documentary focusing on one student. It‘s extremely professional and highly polished and we have been showing it over and over again. We are very proud to show it,“ said Parker.

This semester, computer programming students will work with the infectious disease teams at HHS and St. Joseph‘s Healthcare, under the direction of Dr. Eva Piessens, to create an app that will consolidate a number of databases into one point of entry. It‘s a huge project that will have the potential to save critical time and resources when diagnosing and treating infectious diseases, said Parker.

And for the first time, HHS will partner with animation students to create a video focused on preventing blood clots after surgery, a project that will be led by Charissa Cordon RN, HHS Chief of Nursing Practice.

”Mohawk is very nimble and always willing to try something new... The college comes to mind automatically when I think about new opportunities. It‘s a big part of the community that is wrapped around HHS.”

“There is great interest around it. The finished project is a huge opportunity to reduce risk,“ said Parker.

Altogether, 12 projects are underway across HHS and across a wide spectrum of programs. “Innovative discussions are ongoing with Mohawk to leverage the model very strategically. We have not tapped the full potential.“

There are so many opportunities that a strategy is required to focus on priorities, said Kristen Krull, Vice President of Quality and Performance and Chief Nursing Executive.

“We have to be purposeful around what we want to support and focus on,“ she said.

“We are a sophisticated and complex organization. We can meet learner needs in a wide variety of ways. We are exploring how to bring different disciplines together so that people of different thinking and backgrounds come together to push the limits.“

Mohawk and HHS are also working on a structure to govern the commercialization of products, technology or innovation that results from joint projects and to streamline the connection of HHS with Mohawk students.

“We are looking at creating a different understanding of how we want to work together in the future,“ Krull said.

“Mohawk is very nimble and always willing to try something new... The college comes to mind automatically when I think about new opportunities. It‘s a big part of the community that is wrapped around HHS.“

Both organizations are focused on breaking down barriers and injecting themselves more into the community, said Armstrong. “So we are exploring what else we can be doing together.“

Senior leaders of Mohawk and HHS spent a full day together “in a forward visioning process to define the art of the possible,“ said Armstrong. A steering committee and working group oversees the institutional partnership, which also includes professional development and mentorship opportunities for staff at both organizations.

“We would not exist the way we do or make the impact we do without HHS. The work we do with them is so critical and the fellowship we have with them is truly a pleasure.“

The partnership only benefits from the connections at the senior leadership level between the two organizations, led by former Mohawk President Rob MacIsaac, who is now President and CEO of HHS, and Ted Scott, HHS‘s Vice President Research & Chief Innovation Officer, who held a similar role at Mohawk.

“Rob fully understands the College and its capabilities and Ted oversees solutions-based research that is new to the hospital sector,“ said Armstrong. “The relationship runs very deeply, including Brenda Flaherty (now retired Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer) and Kirsten Krull. It confirms we have the right people to continue to grow the relationship and take even more risks.“