Skyler Nicholson was a year into a bachelor of science program at an Edmonton university when she realized she wanted a different kind of education.
“I just realized it wasn’t for me,” she says. She switched to the Respiratory Therapy (RT) program at NAIT and hasn’t looked back. “I know some lovely therapists who took the program at NAIT, and they had nothing but positive things to say about it. Every class we take here will help us after we graduate, and the fact that all of our labs are new, in the new Centre of Applied Technology building, is a huge advantage.”
Once she completes her program, Nicholson will be qualified to work in hospitals, home-care settings and extended-care facilities, providing airway and blood oxygen management. “We work with ventilators – essentially life support machines that breathe for people,” she explains. “We make sure that our patients’ respiratory systems are working well and they have adequate oxygen saturation. If not, we can help fix that.”
NAIT’s three-year RT program includes two years in the classroom and a third in hospital practicum placements. But “the classroom” is unlike any you might imagine: a 6,000-square-foot simulation centre replicates all the environments a patient might experience, from the moment they interact with paramedics through to their release from hospital.
The multidisciplinary centre includes nine different theatres as well as debrief rooms where students can watch themselves at work later. “It allows us to have multiple professions working together in the same way they would in an emergency room, operating room or any type of medical environment,” says Kerri Oshust, the centre’s director. “Even in the patient room, you have the medical laboratory assistants who come in and draw blood as well as physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists. It’s not about, ‘This is my job, this is your job’; it’s about, ‘This is what the patient needs, and this is how we’re going to provide the patient the best care.’”
Student feedback about the simulation centre experience “is phenomenal,” says Oshust. “They feel they go into the clinical environment better prepared because they’ve had the opportunity to practise in that stressful type of environment before working with a patient.”
NAIT’s paramedic and EMT students use a simulated ambulance box that replicates the ambulances used by Alberta Health Services. “It’s on a motion-based platform that replicates going over railroad tracks and turning corners so that students get used to working with a patient while moving. They’ll then transport the patient to the waiting room where we typically do a hand-off at triage,” she says.
NAIT program advisory councils work with industry and health-care organizations to ensure that the training provided aligns with the work students will do after they graduate, in areas such as dentistry and veterinary services as well as human health care. (Cat and dog mannequins “Fluffy” and “Jerry” help animal health students learn surgical prep and procedures.)
“The manikins are so lifelike; I can’t even explain it,” says Nicholson of the human robotics she works with in her program. “They breathe, sweat, talk, blink and move. It’s fascinating to work with something that responds just as a patient would.”
In March, she did her first two-week clinical placement. “My instructors and all of the health-care staff really prepared me. Whenever I had a patient interaction, I felt comfortable and confident.”