Rhys Andrews drops a document, about the size of a phone book, onto the table.
“This is our Geriatric Nursing Program pages. Here’s how we assess skin status… dementia… pain,” he says, flipping through the pages. “This is the performance criteria, the skills and knowledge you have to possess to pass these modules.”
But Andrews, the Instructional Dean for Health and Human Services, isn’t describing a document for Selkirk College nursing students. This manual has been compiled for educators in a small country of Suriname on the northern coast of South America.
Instructors from Suriname’s COVAB technical school came to the West Kootenay last year as part of the training for the upgraded gerontological program being developed by Selkirk College.
Every few months for the last two years, instructors with Selkirk College’s Nursing Program have travelled to Suriname to help instructors there develop a post-basic geriatric nursing program.
Suriname is the smallest country in South America, with just over half a million citizens. That population, like all populations, is aging and life expectancy is improving. Over-65s are the fastest growing cohort in the country. A study in 2012 noted the lack of financial and medical supports for the group, and the need for improved services for older people.
The technical college COVAB, which has trained Surinamese nurses for more than 30 years, was chosen to address the issue.
“Professionals in elderly care in Suriname are mostly low-educated, which results in the lack of structural specialized care for senior citizens,” says Romano Morsen, the manager of Post Basic and Higher Vocational Education at COVAB in Paramaribo, Suriname. “The main objective is to enhance the quality of care… and to increase the quality of life for the elderly.”
Working with CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) and Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), COVAB put out proposals for help in designing a geriatric care course for the country’s working nurses. Selkirk College won the contract.
“We got the job because we’re nice people,” says Andrews, only half-joking. “We had a good solid plan that got us in the door. But what sealed the deal is that we were going to be good to work with.”
Over the course of about 18 months, Surinamese nurses will take six 10-week modules at COVAB related to caring for older patients. The program is competency-based and the students have to demonstrate they have acquired the skill set for one module before they move on to the next.
“Students learn by doing,” says Andrews. “The teacher facilities hands-on learning, then backs away until the student has reached the needed level of competency. It’s how you get there, the steps you have to take to build that competency, that we have been developing into this manual.”
Selkirk instructors found they had to adjust their teaching style and expectations to work with Surinamese educators. At the Castlegar Campus instructors use a combination of concept, content, as well as competency-based education.
“COVAB trains nurses in a traditional way, whereas Canadian nursing has evolved into experiential and applied learning,” says Teresa Petrick, the Chair of Selkirk Colleges School of Health & Human Services, who worked on policy development for the project. “So it has been challenging but interesting to watch this change for our COVAB team. I've also learned that this change doesn't come quickly and patience is so important.”
“Teacher-centred methods are used instead of student-centred,” agrees Morsen, who says the independence of students at COVAB isn’t fully encouraged in traditional methods. “In this partnership, we have learned a lot of the activating teaching methods and the dynamics in the classroom.”
Andrews says the Canadian team didn’t want to come in and act like “Big Brother.”
“We’re trying very hard to come together as a team rather than as ‘consultant’ and ‘receiver of information,’” he says. “We’re not interested in entering that kind of relationship. We have an equal relationship. We don’t talk about ‘our college-your college.’ We talk about ‘our team.’”
“It's been a phenomenal reciprocal experience,” says Gail Potter, a Selkirk College Nursing Program faculty member. “We have worked a tremendous amount with the COVAB staff as we've tried to come to a common understanding regarding teaching and clinical practice.”
Completing the Project
The project is in its third and final year. Around half the course modules still have to be completed, but Andrews says the work now is tying up loose ends before the project ends next February.
The Selkirk team say the project is having an impact beyond the actual program.
“I believe geriatric nursing is receiving a higher profile in the country and the respect it deserves as a nursing specialty,” says Tammie Clarke, a Selkirk College faculty member who worked on developing the curriculum. “In turn it will only help to improve the quality of care an older adult receives in the country.”
Project members say they’re just happy for the chance to have participated.
“I'm thankful for this opportunity. I've learned so much and have made friendships that may not have otherwise developed,” says Clarke. “I've also had an opportunity to learn from my colleagues from Selkirk College. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our day-to-day work we don't find the time to really get to know or learn from those right next door. I'm fortunate to have learned from some of the best right here at home.”
Team members use words like “heartwarming” to describe the experience, and say it’s helped build their own confidence and understanding of teaching.
“It's been a privilege to learn that they trust us,” says Potter. “It’s a great feeling that we are helping to guide them in the right direction when it comes to nursing education and knowledge of the older adult.”
“For me life is all about fostering healthy relationships,” adds Clarke. “I know I've developed connections with the team at COVAB that will last a lifetime.”