Scrub up!

Aboriginal students explore health-care careers

Arlene Wilgosh (centre) with two Grade 9 students from Children of the Earth School, who tried their hand at pretend surgery during an orientation day to a First Nations medical internship program.

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Friday April 15, 2011

What’s it like to perform arthroscopic surgery?

A group of Grade 9 Aboriginal students found out yesterday as part of an innovative medical internship program at the Pan Am Clinic.

Dressed in surgical masks, gowns and gloves, students from Children of the Earth, Sir Isaac Newton, Hugh John MacDonald and General Wolfe high schools took turns operating a machine that is used to simulate the surgical procedure used to repair the interior of joints like elbows and knees.

After inserting a camera into a pretend patient, they moved the controls and watched the results on the monitor. The object was to remove “foreign objects” like plastic butterflies, which they had to place into a cup.

In addition to performing surgery, the students also got a glimpse into other health-care related activities. Led through a series of workstations by Grade 10 students who are already working in the internship program, the younger students were able to test their blood pressure and muscle strength, and learn how various rehabilitation tools can be used to help people recover from injuries.

“When we started this program, it was all about demystifying medicine,” said Dr. Wayne Hildahl, as he watched the students move around the work station room. “The program is about showing them what jobs in medicine entail. It gives them an idea of whether they want to pursue a career in medicine, as a doctor or nurse, as a technician, in pharmacy or many of the other options.”

The High School Medical Internship program, run by the Winnipeg Health Region and the Winnipeg School Division, was established in 2007 to address the shortage of Aboriginal health-care workers in the Region, which stands at 2.8 per cent of the workforce.

Each year, a group of 12 high school interns are accepted into the program. Over a period of three years, they attend Children of the Earth High School and spend time studying at both the Pan Am Clinic and Health Sciences Centre, earning credit toward their high school graduation. The Grade 10 and 11 students receive 50 hours of instruction, while the Grade 12 students do 90 hours over the course of a year.

The event yesterday was the last of three orientation sessions for this year’s Grade 9 students. As one group of students graduates from the program this June, another class drawn from these Grade 9 students will join the program. If these Grade 9 students are accepted into the internship program, they will have opportunities to learn from surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists, technologists, pharmacists and other health-care professionals.

The orientation session was attended by Arlene Wilgosh, President & CEO of the Winnipeg Health Region, who had warm words of welcome for the Grade 9 students. She was especially encouraging of anyone who said they were interested in becoming a nurse after they graduate from high school.

“I am a nurse by profession, and the way I began to be interested in nursing happened when I was in Grade 9 in Minnedosa. We had a chance to become candy stripers, and went to the hospital two times a week to help with the patients,” said Wilgosh. “I found I liked being with patients, and that the hospital was exciting. It lit a fire in me to continue as a nurse. I hope that we can pass the fire onto you.”

The students enjoyed participating in the activities, encouraging each other and asking questions about what they were doing.

Children of the Earth students Tiana and Jenny took turns in the Alter-G treadmill, which allows people to train for strength and endurance while recovering from a lower body injury. Each of them wiggled into the neoprene shorts, climbed onto the treadmill and were zipped into place by Grade 10 internship students Beverly and Emmy. They thought it was cool that the machine was developed by NASA for use by astronauts.

“The machine uses positive air pressure to go down to 20 per cent of their body weight,” said Dana Peteleski, a Pan Am Clinic Foundation administrative assistant, who was working with students at the treadmill. “It’s used for research purposes, in that it allows us to see if athletes can recover from injury faster, by reducing the weight on their legs and feet, but allowing them to maintain a normal walking or running gait.”

The internship program will graduate its first five students this June. The program is funded by the Manitoba Bright Futures program, which encourages inner-city youth to aim for post-secondary education. This program banks $1,000 per year in trust for each of the students enrolled in the medical internship program, which will form the beginning of tuition for post-secondary education.

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