New training program highlights unique needs of older patients

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A new geriatric training course developed by The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences in partnership with Baycrest Health Sciences aims to prepare the next generation of health care professionals for the unique needs and care challenges of older patients.

Working With Seniors: A Primer for Healthcare Providers is available to students enrolled in Michener’s applied health sciences programs who go on to careers in fields such as diagnostic imaging, nuclear imaging, medical radiation and respiratory therapy. The program brings together Michener’s expertise in responsive curriculum design and development with Baycrest’s world-renowned expertise in geriatric medicine, care and research – to create a one-of-a-kind education experience for young professionals embarking on careers in healthcare.

“As an academic partner of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, our mandate is to be a responsive provider of educational solutions that meet current and emerging needs within the health system,” says Maureen Adamson, President and CEO of The Michener Institute.

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In 2012, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care developed a Seniors Strategy for Ontario, which included publication of the landmark report authored by Dr. Samir Sinha entitled, “Living Longer, Living Well”. The strategy was developed to prepare the province’s health system for the rising number of older patients requiring care. Currently, about every second patient admitted to hospital in Ontario is a senior. By 2034, the number of seniors in Ontario will have doubled, with the expectation that the demand for healthcare among seniors will increase dramatically. Education is considered an important part of the solution.

This has been a truly gratifying partnership utilizing our mutual strengths,” says Dr. David Conn, Vice-President of Education at Baycrest, and Co-Chair of the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health. “Together we’ve created a leading educational product that will help cultivate the clinical knowledge and skills required of health professionals caring for seniors.

The intensive week-long program – now incorporated into Michener’s summer semester – combines flexible learning formats, such as e-learning modules, with simulation experiences including interacting directly with seniors, observing and participating in scenarios, and wearing an innovative frail aging simulation suit. The curriculum is designed to provide students with first-hand perspectives and experiences of the challenges that seniors often encounter during medical appointments and other interactions with health care professionals.

“The competency framework for this new program starts with the seniors’ voices,” says Gillian Nichol, Director of Continuing Education and project lead with the Working with Seniors program at Michener. “This really is a ‘patients first’ approach, and respects the opinions and perspectives of seniors as experts in their own care, reinforcing the whole concept of ‘nothing about me without me’.”

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Members of a seniors’ advisory council from a local community health centre were active participants in the program’s development. Members from a seniors’ acting troupe, known as ACT II, also played an important part – role-playing real-world patient and care provider scenarios for students to both observe and engage in directly.

Results from the first cohort of 270 full-time students who took the pilot program last summer were encouraging. Nearly all of the participants reported that their knowledge and understanding of older adults had improved considerably. This included greater awareness for respecting seniors’ autonomy, creating senior-friendly environments, and being adaptive and responsive to the individual needs and wishes of seniors.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Elizabeth Pickles, a Medical Laboratory Sciences Program student, now in her clinical placement in Ottawa, who was among the first cohort of students to go through the program. “The scenarios were particularly valuable as they gave me a chance to apply what I learned in a simulated setting; a hands-on experience working directly with seniors that I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to do otherwise. It reinforced the importance of customizing your approach around the needs of each patient. Something as simple as providing instructions one step at a time for someone who may be in pain, or have mobility or vision challenges, could go a long way to making them feel comfortable and have a positive impact on their clinical experience.”

Michener has now integrated the program permanently into its curriculum so that all students will enter their chosen career fields with basic competencies in working with seniors in a health care setting. Michener and Baycrest hope to extend the curriculum to Michener graduates and general entry-to-practice health care professionals in the near future.