Jan. 28, 2022

Rural placement in Dawson Creek gives nursing students wide range of clinical experience

Fourth-year UCalgary students spend final focus working in emergency and maternity/obstetrics
Charley and Hannah
Charley Field and Hannah Galbraith, UCalgary Nursing students in Dawson Creek

Rural placements may be the answer for UCalgary undergraduate nursing students with the shortage of available clinical environments these days in which they can practise their acquired skills and learn more. But missing family and friends and social activities is not something many students want to experience.  

For Hannah Galbraith and Charley Field, however, who spent their final focus in fall 2021 in Dawson Creek, the opportunity to venture outside Calgary was too good to pass up. Not only did it provide both women with experiences they likely never would have had within the city, but both are also from B.C. and plan to return there to begin their RN careers. 

After the team from Dawson Creek and District Hospital heard about the success of final focus students in High Level and Fort Vermillion during the winter 2021 term, they reached out.  

Term 8 fall co-ordinator Megan Kirkpatrick and faculty adviser Dave Patterson, along with Keelin Fenske, Undergraduate Nursing Society president, hosted a virtual information session in July for students interested in journeying to Dawson Creek for their final practicum placement. 

According to Patterson, the opportunity to provide unique final focus placements allows for experiences not traditionally available to the nursing students.

“When our students venture into the unknown more generalist nursing areas, their practice grows exponentially,” he explains. “This allows for tremendous occasions to see things they might never witness in a more specialized urban hospital environment.”  

After experiencing acute units in Calgary, Field knew she would thrive in a proactive, unstable and fast-paced environment, like an emergency department (ED) and that is where she was assigned in Dawson Creek.

“I think my duties there were very different than what it would have been in Calgary based on the availability of resources,” she says. “The nurses in Dawson Creek’s ER are ICU nurses, respiratory therapists and social workers just to name a few of their roles. They seemed to know something about everything.

By the end of the semester, I was taking on three to four inpatients in the ER while also helping with other tasks. Those included assisting in casting and suturing, IV therapy, medication administration, observing central line insertions and intubations, working with BIPAP and Airvo oxygen administration, communicating with doctors and other health professional personnel, and ECG capturing. 

Galbraith, who spent the majority of her time in obstetrics/ maternity, agrees that, due to smaller teams rurally, there are options to explore more units. “If you want to work in a more specialized setting (such as only peds) then staying in Calgary may be a better idea, but going to a more rural placement allows for such a mix of opportunities,” she says.

“I felt being in Dawson would allow me to experience more than just obstetrics and hoped that I would get more autonomy as a nurse (which, for the record, I definitely did). I felt incredibly respected by all the physicians and the entire team and that my opinion and voice mattered in respect to my patients.” 

Galbraith’s work included involvement in deliveries (including c-sections and vaginal deliveries), in postpartum and a couple experiences more equivalent to being on a NICU team. She also joined Field in the ER for a shift where she assessed a newborn brought back into the hospital because of concerns of jaundice.

“The infant ended up needing to go under the bili lights and I was able to bring them up to the maternity unit and spend the rest of my shift up there with them. I thought it was so cool how interconnected the units were and I think this is something that is more likely to happen in more rural settings.” 

Her most memorable experience? “There was one delivery where the doctor did not make it in time and I was able to physically deliver the baby (with my preceptor’s guiding hands). This was definitely the highlight: it was also a very valuable and special moment for me because I bonded with the mother very quickly and was able to support her through her entire labour and delivery process.” 

Field’s unforgettable moment also involved a childbirth. “I was appreciative to the mother for allowing me to be able to experience such a vulnerable time with her. I enjoyed being able to learn and observe an area of nursing that I have not yet been able to do.” 

Additionally, Field and Galbraith, who both like to travel, hiked the area and explored the beautiful waterfalls on their days off together.  

Hiking around Dawson Creek

Hiking around Dawson Creek

Galbraith’s long-term goal is to return to a rural B.C. community after spending some time gaining more experience in labour and delivery. Field is looking forward to passing the NCLEX, getting her first job and then becoming a better ER nurse with more formal as well as on-the-job education. 

Advice to other undergrads considering rural placements is to “just go for it. The range of experiences I was a part of far outweighed what I would have done in an urban setting,” says Galbraith.  

“Stepping out of your comfort zone can bring new experiences you never imagined,” Field says, adding that believing in your abilities and reaching out to preceptors to learn new ones are keys to success. “Always advocate for your learning.  Be open to criticism and feedback; it is how you become a better nurse.”