Georgian College Nursing Students Gain Valuable Telehealth Skillset While Helping Older Adults Experiencing Social Isolation From COVID-19 Restrictions

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Georgian College nursing student Lisette Verzijlenberg participated in a special clinical experience using telehealth with older adult volunteers in the North Simcoe Muskoka region last summer. The pilot project was very successful and is continuing this winter.

Georgian’s nursing students are set to graduate equipped with a unique and valuable skillset gained through a special clinical experience using telehealth with older adult volunteers in the North Simcoe Muskoka region.

When in-person clinical placements were not possible due to COVID-19 last summer, Georgian wanted to provide students with a meaningful form of experience. Through a partnership with Georgian Bay General Hospital (GBGH) Director of Volunteers in Midland, GBGH was able to pair the 21 Bachelor of Science in Nursing students with an older adult volunteer in their community.

Lisette Verzijlenberg was one of the students who completed clinical hours in the pilot project. “It was a great experience and the perfect solution to enable us to acquire critical skills in an alternate format during the pandemic,” said Verzijlenberg. “We quickly learned how to listen, improve communication, and articulate our questions in a succinct manner, which is so important when in-person examination and discussions aren’t possible.” She noted the volunteers were very patient and willing to help students navigate through the learning process. “This made a tremendous impact on building confidence as we converted textbook knowledge into practical understanding.”

This pilot project was such a success that it’s being expanded this winter.  Georgian has partnered with the North Simcoe Muskoka Specialized Geriatric Services (NSM SGS) program team as well as GBGH to link 120 nursing students with older adult volunteers.  The program aims at promoting the social engagement of older adults living in the community.  The nursing students will have one-on-one interactions with the older adults via telephone or through secure web-based platforms over the coming months to reduce social isolation.  Interactions will lead to the creation of a “Connections Plan” that will assist older adults to stay connected and promote their social, mental and physical well-being during pandemic-related restrictions.

“Partnering with the North Simcoe Muskoka Specialized Geriatric Services and the GBGH volunteers has provided our students with an amazing learning experience during this pandemic,” said Darci Wright, Faculty, BScN Collaborative Program. “It’s a win-win for the organizations, the older adults and our students who benefit from the telehealth form of nursing education. It’s an effective method of delivering health care and will continue to grow throughout the coming years. We’ve given our students a unique experience that most will not get during their undergraduate learning and we’re hoping this will be a mainstay competency moving forward within our nursing program – especially when we launch our new stand-alone four-year Honours Bachelor of Science – Nursing (BScN) degree in fall 2022. In addition to gaining critical life experience during this pandemic and developing their nursing skills, they’ll also better understand what social isolation means to older adults and learn about available resources within our community to reduce that isolation.”

The program has been well supported by partners in the region who were excited to link older adults with available resources. Through existing relationships, the NSM SGS program worked with numerous area partners including the Couchiching Family Health Team, the Georgian Bay Family Health Team, the Cottage County Family Health Team, the Algonquin Family Health Team and the Alzheimer Society of Muskoka to identify older adults and caregivers who would benefit from involvement.

“Social isolation has been a significant issue for so many older adults and caregivers,” said Sandra Easson-Bruno, Director of the NSM SGS program. “COVID-19 restrictions, while intended to keep our older adults safe, are leading to numerous other issues like loneliness, anxiety and depression. Extended lockdowns coupled with the cold winter weather are making it difficult for many older adults to stay active and engaged in their communities.  My team and our partners are so excited to work with Georgian on this great initiative!”

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