This rural southwestern Ontario camp is shaping the next generation of healthcare workers

A southwestern Ontario camp hopes to make the future of health care work a little brighter in order to address the dire need for more workers and combat the heavy strain on Canada’s health-care system. 

The Discovery Healthcare Camp (DHC) took place in Goderich, about 100 kilometres north of London, Ont., this week. It aims to encourage high school students from rural communities to explore potential careers in the health care realm.

“We’re in a bit of a healthcare crisis right now and we can use all the help we can get,” said Taylor McCann, an instructor at the camp.

“If we inspire just a couple of kids to go into something healthcare related and get them excited about practising in their local communities, that would be a really big win for us.”

30 students attended Camp Klahanie in the Huron County town for the week, where they got to learn about clinical skills led by Western University medical students. They learned things such as applying casts, taking vital signs, and blood pressures while also getting tips on how to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. 

Students at the camp take part in a guided meditation session taught by holistic practitioner Faye Murray. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

The students also heard from various rural healthcare professionals about their own journeys and got to see what  possibilities exist for them. 

“We want to get the kids looking at careers that aren’t just doctors, or just nurses. We want to show them a perspective of other healthcare careers that are out there,” McCann said. 

With hospitals across the country grappling with staff shortages due to burnout and people leaving the profession altogether, exposing young talent to the field is more important than ever, camp administration said.

Hometown heroes

16-year-old Alaiya Chisholm of Goderich, Ont., is an aspiring nurse. She’s surprised to see all the possible careers paths she can choose within nursing. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Grade 12 student Alaiya Chisholm of Goderich is an aspiring pediatric nurse who attended the camp. What stood out to her was seeing how broad the medical field can be. 

“It’s been really fun seeing the different pathways. I never thought nursing can go as wide as it can,” she said. 

Her favourite activity has been doing a full body scan where she learned what to look for when a patient is injured and how it impacts their heart rhythm and blood pressure. 

“It’s important to get everyone involved and give them a knowledge of what nursing is. It’s not just all bad things,” she said. “Nursing is a great thing to get involved in, everyone’s helping people and you’re working with a team.”

Chisholm looks forward to working in her hometown after finishing her schooling. She believes it’s important to give back to her community. 

“I’m born and raised here my whole life and I’d love just to be in my hometown and help people that I love and I know. It’s a small town so you know a lot of people and it’s great,” the 16-year-old said.

16-year-old, Alexzander Dolmage of Clinton, Ont., middle, wants to get medical experience in an urban setting. He’s enjoying learning from his captains Sam Murray, left, and Taylor McCann, right. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Alexzander Dolmage of Clinton, Ont., however, wants to gain a stronger skill set in an urban setting before he returns to work in his hometown. 

“I feel like there would be more opportunities for my career progression in an urban settling, especially with the type of work I want to do. Being in larger hospital that has a trauma unit that’s already in it would be better,” he said. 

Dolmage sees himself working in an emergency unit but isn’t sure yet if that’ll be as a doctor or a nurse. He was surprised to learn how big of a role public health plays in disease control and management. 

Despite the impact the the pandemic’s had on healthcare workers, Dolmage says he’s not discouraged about pursuing a career in the field.

“Initially it was quite worrying, but once I saw the vaccine rollout and how the entire healthcare community come together, it was almost inspiring in a way,” he added. 

Prominent need in rural areas 

Nurse Ally Hulley and Sam Murray teaching the students how to put on a cast and suturing teddy bears. (Submitted by Gwen Devereaux)

A rural community isn’t necessarily the first choice for a newly graduated healthcare worker, said Sam Murray of the Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health, one of DHC’s partners. 

“Everything is more spread out so it can be harder to know where to go to seek out experiences and there often aren’t the same number of experiences to seek out, especially for young students,” he said. “This camp is really trying to fill that gap within our community.”

There’s a big need for more workers in rural areas due to an aging population that will require more care and support, Murray said.

“In Huron county, over 20 per cent of the population is over the age of 65, so it’s really important that we not only maintain the level of professionals that we have in the area, but even try to expand on it moving forward,” he said. 

Acute care nurse Ally Hulley reiterates to students that healthcare will always have challenges, whether there’s a pandemic or not. She believes there’s something in this field for everyone.

“There’s so many tiers and different options and you can work with a variety of populations and cultures,” she said. “Healthcare’s constantly evolving and advancing, so if you’re up for a challenge it’s the perfect setting.”

Rural areas face unique challenges, such as there only being one local hospital in an area, leaving people to travel long distances to seek care, Hulley said. She recalls a Goderich family that had to drive two hours to Hamilton just to find out if they’re even eligible for a procedure. 

“It’s so scary to know that we’re facing such significant nursing and physician shortage because that’s the backbone of our healthcare system. These hospitals need resources and to be staffed with people who want to be there and care about what they’re doing,” she said. 

The staff at the camp hope that students can take away all the endless possibilities that are available to them and that someday, they can come back to work in their home communities. 


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