COTR students to present at national conference

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Year 4 Bachelor of Science in Nursing students, Natalie Armstrong (2nd from the left) and Jessica Wheeler (3rd from the left), initiated a Community Outreach project as part of their studies. Year 3 BSN students, Tessa Mitchell (far left) and Michael Sullivan (far right) have worked on the project since January 2023.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing students will share an innovative approach to learning

College of the Rockies Year 4 Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students, Natalie Armstrong and Jessica Wheeler, will be traveling to St. John’s, Newfoundland to present their work and learning experience with the Community Outreach Practicum project at the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing (CASN) Conference.

The project grew out of Armstrong and Wheeler’s Year 3 Community Health Nursing Practice placement – a requirement of the BSN program. The two began the process of developing a sustainable student practicum experience focused on community health outreach to people experiencing homelessness in Cranbrook.

“The opportunity to help develop this community outreach project has opened our eyes to the lived experience of those experiencing homelessness, substance use disorder, and mental illness, not only in Cranbrook but in the West Kootenay as well,” said Armstrong. “We have spent a lot of time debriefing about our own biases, feelings, and experiences, and recognizing the importance of nursing from a trauma-informed lens. We are excited to present this project on a national level at the Biennial CASN Conference.”

The project began as a joint venture between the BSN programs at College of the Rockies and Selkirk College, as both schools were looking to expand their practicum opportunities for BSN students. Selkirk students and faculty took on the role of advisors to the College’s team, based on the Selkirk College BSN community outreach activities in Nelson, Trail, and Castlegar.

The practicum project at College of the Rockies has a dual focus. First, to provide student nurses with learning experience in the role of community health nursing, and second, to build a practicum opportunity for students to respond to the health needs of people in our community.

“This practicum project reflects the innovation that emerges when students are challenged to engage in a real-world health issue,” said Norma Sherret, BSN instructor. “Health promotion, community development, advocacy and respect are concepts that shape the Year 3 BSN student learning experience and those same concepts served as the foundation for working together with partners in our community to create this meaningful experience. Meeting people in the context of their lives, hearing their stories and recognizing their resiliency and then, supporting them with their health needs, this is the power of nursing.”

Armstrong and Wheeler met stakeholders in Cranbrook who are working to address the issues related to poverty and homelessness in our community. These meetings included representatives from the province, City Council, Interior Health, local businesses, individuals experiencing homelessness, and existing outreach service providers.

The community needs assessment revealed several themes including the need for community education to address the stigma attached to the experience of homelessness, secure and accessible housing, increased access to harm reduction supplies, and readily available “on the ground” health services for those not linked to existing service providers.

Recognizing the value in the work they had done; Armstrong and Wheeler continued their learning as part of the Year 4 Leadership Practice course. They were required to consider and explore opportunities for student-led activities that would provide meaningful learning experiences for future students.  Their work concluded in December 2022 when the two presented their practice-based learning at the annual BSN Student Leadership Conference.

“This project was a lesson in perseverance for my partner and I,” said Wheeler. “We started this project with a lot of naivety regarding program development and quickly realized progress isn’t linear. This experience has been a journey with a lot of steps forward and a couple steps back. Meaningful relationships and shared story telling have truly built the foundation of this project and we are excited to see how it progresses in the future.”

Having concluded their role, Armstrong and Wheeler handed off the project to Year 3 students Tessa Mitchell and Michael Sullivan. This student team focused on creating sustainable partnerships within the community, engaging with community members and members of the College’s health programs to ensure ongoing resources to support student participation in distribution of basic wound care supplies, food stuffs, and warm clothing to people in need. They have established important links with existing community outreach services and health care providers as partners for future students to connect with and support.

This innovative approach to student learning will be showcased at the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing Biennial Conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland at the end of May. Wheeler and Armstrong will present a poster of their learning with nurse educators and students from across Canada.

College of the Rockies BSN program is offered in partnership with the University of Victoria.

Learn more about Bachelor of Science in Nursing at College of the Rockies at: cotr.ca/health


About College of the Rockies

For more than 45 years, College of the Rockies has provided post-secondary education that meets the needs and aspirations of the people, industry, and businesses of our region. Each year, we welcome more than 10,000 full-time and part-time students into a full range of programs, including: skilled trades, university studies, adult upgrading, early childhood education, health and human services, business, office administration, tourism, hospitality, recreation, fire services, continuing education, and contract training. Through smaller class sizes, highly personalized instruction and dedicated support services, our students are primed to succeed in the job market, or in the next stage of their academic journey.

Media Contact:
Heather Jackson
Manager, Communications and Marketing
College of the Rockies