The night before Julia Kemp boarded a small 12-seater plane and flew out of Rigolet, Labrador, where she spent four memorable weeks in January, the fourth-year nursing student joined community residents for a feast of soups and stews made with fresh local moose, partridge, and caribou.
It was a delicious way to finish up her four-week clinical placement in Labrador.
For Ms. Kemp, who's in her final year of the Bachelor of Nursing (BN) (Collaborative) program at Memorial University's School of Nursing, it was just one more awesome experience in a series of awesome experiences that have not only honed and helped her consolidate four years of nursing skills; she's gained confidence and learned about a way of life and culture she had previously not experienced.
"I didn't know anything about Inuit culture," said Ms. Kemp who is from Sydney, Cape Breton and more familiar with the traditions of Mi'kmaq communities in her area. "People really live off the land (in Rigolet). They go out wooding on their snow mobiles...I didn't know what they were talking about at first, but they would go out into the woods and get all the wood they needed for a while."
Ms. Kemp and her classmates Hillary Doucet and Julia Cormier have all just returned from their Community Health clinical placements, and talk practically non-stop about their time in 'The Big Land,' as Labrador is often called.
"I'm considering going north when I graduate," said Julia Cormier who was based in Goose Bay but worked with nurses in Sheshatshui and North West River, and came away admiring the close relationships that nursing staff have with residents. "I wanted to get a different experience (than I had in my other placements)...I wanted to see what (life in the north) was like."
These northern and Labrador clinical placements were highly-recommended by friends, so the three jumped at the chance to sign up when nursing students were asked last fall about their interest in going to Labrador.
The students are also quick to cite funding received through the Rural Incentive Program as key to their decision to opt for Labrador placements, and congratulate "whoever it was who came up with the program."
The Rural Incentive Program was introduced by the provincial government in 1999 as a way to encourage students to opt for rural placements throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
"People were more than welcoming," said Ms. Doucet who spent her clinical placement working out of a community-based clinic in Hopedale, on the north coast. "Not once would they say, 'You're a nursing student, you're not coming into the room.' Not once did anyone question my ability...I found that it was super nice to get that feeling of acceptance."
And that's something Claudine Morgan, the School of Nursing's clinical placement coordinator, loves to hear!
For over a decade now Ms. Morgan has worked with her partners at Labrador-Grenfell Health, who in turn also connect with aboriginal communities to send students on clinical places that for many are truly life-changing experiences. And if not life-changing, full of revellations about themselves, and about the reality of nursing in the north.
"There's a lot of work in the background that goes into arranging these placements," said Ms. Morgan who begins every August working on the clinical placements "But it's well-worth the effort – for the students and for the health authorities. Students come back having learned so much, and they have fantastic stories to share that are really moving."
This kind of feedback means so much to nurse coordinators and managers who work with Ms. Morgan behind the scenes, arranging accommodations, flights in and out of communities, ensuring that student experiences meet their clinical requirements, the needs of Labrador-Grenfell Health and other organizations involved.
"It's important that we give students the best possible learning experiences," said Brenda Eddison, regional director of Employee Development, Training and Health, and Ms. Morgan's first point of contact for arranging placements with Labrador-Grenfell Health. "Our staff, in collaboration with the Nunatsiavut government and Innu Nation, is exceptional at making sure students feel welcomed and part of the multi-disciplinary team.
And our staff on the Great Northern Peninsula also ensures that nursing student experiences exceed expectations. Experiences such as these will hopefully help students realize the opportunities that await them upon graduation in all areas of our region."
In fact, finding preceptors, who act as nurse mentor/supervisors to the students, is often the easy part.
"From my experience and perspective, it's having students graduate and come back to work with us that is the ultimate reward," said Tina Buckle, Community Health Nursing Coordinator for the Government of Nunatsiavut in Labrador, when asked why she and others devote time and effort arranging these placements. "Students enjoy the communities, they enjoy their work, and that's something we smile about. The placements have mutual benefits and have been one of the positive recruitment tools for us."