Closing the text book and hitting the hospital halls

Josh Gillard, 16, is a grade 12 student at Barrie’s Eastview Secondary School, and yet so far this semester he’s rarely been there.

That’s because instead of grabbing his backpack full of books and walking to school, he’s tying up his steel-toed safety boots and heading to Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH). There he meets fellow Eastview student Mitch Kirkpatrick, 16, and together the two learn first hand what its like to be a member of the hospital’s Building Facilities and Operations team.

The teens are two of 12 students currently at RVH for a Co-operative Education term. The students, who come from five area high schools, are working in eight areas of the hospital including finance, the cancer program and occupational therapy.

For Gillard, the experience has solidified his plan to become a plumber once he graduates. “It’s really cool here. I had no idea so many tradespeople worked in a hospital. I’ve been able to shadow them all – it’s awesome,” says Gillard, who is on his second co-op term at RVH.

What is equally as exciting is that RVH has become a place of healing and a place of learning. Each year more than 800 students hone their skills at this facility. Some are nursing students from Georgian College while others are physicians on the last leg of their training, and the youngest are co-op students from local high schools testing the career waters.

“Our high school co-op program allows youth to experience what it is like to work in healthcare today. Students are placed in both clinical and non-clinical areas and the benefits to RVH and the students are immeasurable,” says Val Bennett, Director of Volunteer Resources.

The students assigned to Building Facilities and Operations shadow different tradespeople from plumbers, to carpenters, to millwrights and locksmiths – and the students get to experience it all.

“It is a real eye opener for some of these students. And for some it’s the first time they are out in the ‘real world.’ The hospital is such a unique setting for a co-op as we have everything here from medicine to mechanics,” says Bill VanLeusen, supervisor of Facilities.

Vince Parente, is a plumber at RVH and believes the co-op students are gaining valuable skills not taught in the regular classroom. In fact, he wished he had this kind of program when he was in high school.

“When I was in high school they had a similar program, but it was only a week. I didn’t really learn anything. For these guys it’s a great experience, although Josh won’t fix the toilets yet, only the sinks,” says Parente, as he gives the teen a smile.

Kirkpatrick is new on the scene, but already he says the experience has definitely steered him toward a career in the trades. “I wanted to do a co-op here because I thought it would be a great experience and a chance to further my knowledge in the trades. I knew it would help me decide what I would like to do for my future,” says Kirkpatrick, who is toying with becoming an electrician or a plumber.

Either way it’s a chance to leave the books behind and roll up their sleeves and get right to work.

And they are not alone.

Just up a flight of stairs and down the hall that’s exactly what Dr. Brent Morin is doing. The former high school teacher is completing his family medicine residency with Royal Victoria Hospital’s Family Medicine Teaching Unit (FMTU) and is thrilled to finally put into practice all the knowledge he has acquired from medical school. “Caring for patients is not something you can learn from a book.  It is something you have to do and learn from the people who are doing it,” says Dr. Morin.

It’s an interesting statement coming from a man who spent the past 14 years as a high school English teacher, but he’s absolutely right. By the time Dr. Morin is finished his residency – the last step in his journey to become a family doctor – he will have learned everything from pre-natal care, to delivering babies to geriatric medicine and everything in between.

“Each experience has been so amazing and different, but I can tell you that this has reaffirmed my love of obstetrics.  I feel that it is the greatest privilege of medicine to assist in the delivery of a child,” says the father of two.

Dr. Stu Murdoch is pleased to know Morin’s time at RVH has been valuable. It’s the experience he had envisioned the program residents would have when, in 2009, he helped established the Family Medicine Residency Program at RVH, in affiliation with the University of Toronto’s Department of Family and Community Medicine.

With RVH being an official teaching site of the University of Toronto, accredited program residents receive traditional classroom training from physicians affiliated with the Barrie and Community Family Health Team. As well as practical experience, they work alongside those family doctors in a new Family Medicine Teaching Unit (FMTU), where each student will manage a caseload of up to 300 patients. Over 1,500 patients are now registered with the residents and 19 faculty members supervise the residents while they are seeing patients.

“This was a logical step for RVH as we continue to develop unique ways to deliver healthcare to the people of this region,” said Janice Skot, RVH President and CEO. “This initiative is a milestone for health care innovation and community-based medical training, and has positioned RVH as a centre of educational excellence.” From medical residents to nursing students to teens learning about the trades, there’s a whole lot of learning going on at RVH. And if there is one negative to learning a trade in a hospital setting Gillard can’t think of one. “It’s been an awesome experience – can’t think of one negative, nope not one,” he says.