Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was at York University on Monday to mark the start of National Nursing Week, and chaired a round-table discussion that included undergraduate nursing students and graduate students in the nurse practitioner program.
McGuinty, accompanied by York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and York West MPP Mario Sergio, began his visit with a tour of the University’s state-of-the-art Nursing Resource Centre and watched as nursing students practised inserting intravenous lines into patient mannequins. Dressed casually, the premier was openly animated as he chatted with students and spoke about his own undergraduate degree in biology and his youthful dream of entering medicine.
Left: McGuinty (left) is greeted by York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and York West MPP Mario Sergio
As he toured the facility, McGuinty met and spoke with students enrolled in York’s bachelor of science in nursing (BScN), the second entry BScN program, the BScN for internationally educated nurses and the master of science in nursing program for nurse practitioners.
The premier’s visit coincided with this week’s announcement by the provincial government that it was seeking applications to create 14 more nurse practitioner-led clinics, with a goal of having 25 nurse practitioner-led clinics by 2012. (The first cluster of 11 nurse practitioner-led clinics is set to open later this month.) In Ontario, nurse practitioners are able to treat common illnesses and injuries, and order X-rays, lab tests and other diagnostic tests. They can also refer patients to specialists.
Right: The premier chats with nursing students as they practise on a mannequin
Sitting down to begin the round table, McGuinty was greeted by Lesley Beagrie, associate dean of professional & global programs in the School of Nursing in York's Faculty of Health. Beagrie thanked the premier for the funding that has made both the Nursing Resource Centre and programs such as the second-year entry and internationally educated BScN programs possible.
Following Beagrie's welcoming remarks, the premier opened the round-table discussion. “I want to take this opportunity to thank the students for pursuing, with passion, a career in nursing as it is a calling,” he said. He described nursing as a profession that cares just not for patients but for mothers, fathers, children, siblings, neighbours and friends. "These aren't just any people, they are really important to all of us," he said.
McGuinty spoke with reverence of the knowledge and skill required by nursing professionals and how far nursing has come since 1949, when his mother was a nurse, eliciting a laugh as he recounted a story about a colleague of his mother's who forgot to cut up a patient's grapefruit and was required, as punishment, to write out 500 times how she would not forget to cut up a grapefruit in the future.
The Ontario premier then talked about his government's vision for health care and the important role nursing professionals would play in bringing that vision to reality. "The first thing our government did was to make sure that there are more of you. As of today, we are up to 10,700 more nursing positions in Ontario," he said.
The government, said McGuinty, through a program based on best practices, is now allowing nursing professionals to conduct tests, including those to detect colorectal cancer. Nurses will also be able to work as surgical first assistants and in long-term care emergency mobile teams. He reiterated his enthusiasm for nurse practitioner-led clinics: “Ontario has the first nurse practitioner-led clinics in North America,” said McGuinty, “with 11 at various stages in terms of being phased in and today the government issued an announcement for the next 14 clinics. So there will be a total of 25 such clinics in Ontario.”
Above: McGuinty, centre, addresses nursing students gathered for a round-table discussion
"Nurse practitioners in Ontario will now be able to communicate a diagnosis, order diagnostic tests such as an MRI or CT scan, cast a fracture and prescribe medications," he said. "We are also talking about permitting our nurse practitioners to admit and discharge patients into and from a hospital, and introduced a new package of reforms that will be important to nurse practitioners. Up to now, hospitals have been required to seek advice on health issues exclusively from an all-physician advisory committee. Now we are going to ensure that nurses and other health professionals can provide that advice on health as well."
The innovations are required, said the premier, to help combat the rising cost of health care in Ontario. The cost has moved from a figure of 32 cents for every program dollar spent by the government 20 years ago, to a current cost of 46 cents per dollar, and is estimated to reach 70 cents of every program dollar spent in 12 years if action is not taken, diverting money from other critically needed areas including infrastructure, schools, environmental protection and services. The nurse practitioner-led clinics and reforms to reduce costs of prescription drugs in the province are two such measures aimed at reducing exploding health-care costs. "Such clinics and nursing education programs form an integral part of the province’s Open Ontario Plan created to strengthen public health care," said the premier.
Left: Student Thomas McCormick talks about why he decided to become a nurse and of his plan to travel to a remote community in northern Ontario to work in a community clinic
Following his comments, McGuinty opened the discussion to students, hearing more about why they had chosen the profession. For master's student Deana Ruddell-Thomson, the experience of watching family and friends cope with illness caused by tainted water during the Walkerton tragedy more than 10 years ago solidified her desire to study nursing.
Fourth-year BScN student Crystal Van Leeuwen said, "Nursing chose me. The moment when I knew when I was going to enrol in nursing came when I was volunteering in northeastern Thailand working with children with HIV and I held an eight-year-old girl who was the size of an average three-year-old Canadian child. She was going to die because she did not have equal access to affordable medications and I knew I needed to join a profession that would advocate for patient rights as well as health."
Another student, Thomas McCormick, spoke about his plans to travel to a remote community in northern Ontario to work in a clinic, while another talked about coming to Canada from Russia where she had worked as a nurse and how she was delighted to be able to continue her profession through her enrolment in the BScN for internationally educated nurses.
At the end of the round-table discussion, Shoukri thanked McGuinty for visiting York and presented him with a copy of York University: The Way Must be Tried by York Professor Emeritus and University historian Michiel Horn. "Thank you very much for choosing York University to kick-start Nursing Week," said Shoukri. "We see you as the champion of postsecondary education and the champion of health care. We thank you for being that champion and we are committed to working with you to improve both postsecondary education and health care in Ontario."
Right: The premier is presented with a commemorative copy of York University: The Way Must be Tried by York President Mamdouh Shoukri
The premier responded that while he had spoken to everyone, "there is one group I would like to give special thanks to and that group is the teachers who are here today. It is not just the substantive subject matter that you transmit to your students, it is also how you do it and how you conduct yourselves. Your patience, understanding and commitment transcends time. Thank you all."
By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor