Hamilton hospitals welcome student ‘externs’ as health-care worker shortages persist

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Published October 14, 2021 at 11:53 am

Health-care worker shortages have become a pressing issue in Hamilton’s hospitals over the course of the pandemic but post-secondary students have started stepping in to help fill some of those gaps.

According to the school, 87 McMaster University nursing students have been hired by Hamilton’s health-care systems as ‘externs’ to help with the nursing shortage and gain some valuable experience ahead of graduation.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health launched the extern program in February 2021 to support nursing capacity while the province responds to the pandemic, but most externs do not work with COVID-19 patients, a media release said.

“Being in the hospital environment definitely helps me practice ‘hard’ skills like taking blood pressure, recording patient charts, or fixing an IV line, as well as my soft skills, as I’m interacting with patients all the time,” said a fourth-year School of Nursing student Laura Saunders in the release.

“The nursing team I work with is absolutely awesome and they really do need all hands on deck right now.”

In the coming weeks, more hands will likely be needed as Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (SJHH) workers are running out of time to disclose their vaccination status as per the systems’ mandatory vaccination policies.

According to recent reports, hundreds of workers in both systems, approximately 1,500, have an unknown vaccination status, are not vaccinated or have medical or religious exemptions.

While the fate of those employees remains to be seen, it’s possible they could face unpaid leaves of absence or job termination.

Of the 87 McMaster students working in Hamilton hospitals, 57 are working at HHS hospital sites and the other 30 are at SJHH hospitals.

Another 27 students from Mohawk College and eight from Conestoga College are also working as externs at HHS.

So far, HHS has hired 25 McMaster graduates who worked as externs but the extern experience does not count toward course credits, the release said.

“As we encounter nursing shortages directly impacted by the pandemic, the presence of our nursing externs on clinical units brings unique value to our healthcare organization,” said Erin Doherty, director of nursing practice at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

“To date, we have successfully recruited 30 BScN students from McMaster University to work throughout our inpatient environments, inclusive of our emergency department and urgent care centre.”

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