Childhood experiences inspire nursing careers

Three mcmaster students stand outside mcmaster children's hospital, smiling.

McMaster University nursing students Sifa Lwesso, Tran Thai and Alessandra Cascioli are gaining valuable work experience as outpatient clinicians at our McMaster Children’s Hospital.

Health: the next generation

Staffing shortages caused by the pandemic continue to affect hospitals across the province, including Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS). One of the innovative ways HHS is addressing the shortage is the provincially funded outpatient clinical program, created by the province to provide additional health care to hospitals.

College and university seniors in nursing, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, physical therapy and paramedic programs may apply to work as outpatient clinicians at HHS hospital sites. Students work at least one shift per week, with a typical shift being eight to 12 hours.

Nursing call

There are careers, and then calls. Alessandra Cascioli’s younger brother Joseph encouraged her to pursue a career in nursing, caring for children.

“Growing up, I always loved taking care of other people, and especially my brother Joseph.” — Alessandra Cascioli, nursing student and HHS extern

Sister and brother sitting together, smiling

Alessandra Cascioli’s younger brother Joseph encouraged him to pursue a caring profession.

“When I was 13, my mom had a baby born with Down syndrome,” says Cascioli, now a 21-year-old nursing student and HHS clinical nursing extern.

Cascioli plans to launch her career at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) at HHS, where she works outside shifts in the emergency department while completing her degree.

“Growing up, I always liked taking care of other people, and especially my brother Joseph,” Cascioli says, adding that he has become a healthy and happy eight-year-old. “As a family we always joked that I was like a second mother to him.”

As a teenager, Cascioli accompanied Joseph to medical appointments at MCH, where he appreciated the impactful role pediatric nurses play in caring for children.

“From those trips I know how special it is to be so involved in the care of a child,” says Cascioli. “That’s why I want to practice nursing at MCH. I think what we do is very rewarding, especially because we see a lot of kids get better and go home to their families.”

Valuable work experience

Although externs are not yet registered health professionals, they make an important contribution by assisting in their roles as non-regulated care providers. Staff welcome the additional handbook and students gain valuable work experience at HHS, recognized as one of Canada’s top employers for youth for the second year in a row.

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Alessandra Cascioli is gaining hands-on experience as an extern in the emergency department at our McMaster Children’s Hospital.

Bystanders assist with tasks such as bathing, personal hygiene care, dressing, eating, mobilization, and companionship and support to patients and their families.

Externs may also perform other duties, depending on their area of ​​care and patient population, when delegated by a regulated health care professional. These tasks may include capillary blood glucose testing, nasopharyngeal/nasal/vesical lavage, and removal of IV and peripheral urinary catheters.

Seeking inspiration

McMaster nursing student Sifa Lwesso is an extern at the complex and intermediate care unit at MCH, where children are hospitalized for a variety of health problems, including respiratory viruses, pneumonia and chronic illnesses.

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Sifa Lwesso is an extern at the complex and intermediate care unit at MCH, where she is gaining valuable work experience after finishing school.

Lwesso was inspired to enter the nursing profession by her father, who is a nurse.

“I grew up listening to his work and how much he loved it.”

He knows first-hand what it’s like to be an MCH patient. “I had leg surgery at MCH when I was very young because I broke my femur,” she says, and her fondest memories are of the nurses who looked after her.

“I remember how amazing the nurses were. Their genuine care for their patients really stood out to me. He planted the seed that I wanted to be a nurse one day.’

Solidarity profession

Tran Thai entered McMaster’s two-year accelerated nursing program after completing a bachelor’s degree in global health and psychology at the University of Toronto.

“It is a privilege to help patients and their families on their journey.” — Tran Thai, nursing student and HHS extern

Extern program tran thai sifa lwesso alessandra cascioli mch 23. 03. 16 web size 022

Tran Thai found meaningful work as an outsider, caring for young cancer patients and their families.

“When I graduated, I loved health care but I didn’t know what career path to take,” says Thai.

“I liked the opportunity to work with patients, so I thought nursing would be a good fit.”

Thai found her calling outside of MCH’s pediatric oncology program, where she cares for young cancer patients and their families.

“I’m a very people person, and being part of a support system for these families is something I feel passionately about during very difficult times in their lives. It is truly motivating to see how resilient and positive our patients can be in the face of dire situations. It is a privilege to help patients and their families on their journey. I learn a lot from them.”

All three externs worked throughout the pandemic and have experienced first-hand the ongoing pressures including sicker patients with more complex health issues, ongoing staffing and capacity pressures, and longer waiting times.

“I know the pandemic has made it difficult for nurses to do their jobs,” says Lwesso. “But I also see how nurses work to take care of patients in very difficult situations, and for me that is very admirable and inspiring.”

Learn more about our external clinical program

The program has continued to grow over the past two years, bringing more potential healthcare workers to HHS.

  • Since launching the outpatient clinical program in early 2021, HHS has hired 126 outpatient clinical nurses as registered nurses and registered practical nurses upon graduation, as well as seven respiratory therapy outpatients as registered respiratory therapists.
  • In February, HHS hired 200 nursing externs, 12 occupational therapy externs, 10 respiratory therapy externs, five paramedic externs and three physical therapy externs.
  • Our externs work at Hamilton General Hospital, Regional Rehabilitation Center, Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Center, McMaster University Medical Center, McMaster Children’s Hospital, West Lincoln Memorial Hospital, St. Peter’s Hospital, Satellite Health Center and Virtual Nursing Station.
  • Most of those outside HHS are from McMaster University and Mohawk College, as well as Brock University, Niagara College, Western University, Fanshawe College, and Toronto Metropolitan University. A few are from further afield, such as the University of Ottawa, the University of Windsor and Laurentian University in Sudbury.
  • In April, 81 nursing externships are expected, along with nine respiratory therapy externships. In August, 11 vocational and physical therapists will graduate. Most graduates choose careers at HHS. For those who don’t, it’s usually because they return to work in their hometown.

This story is part of a series featuring students who are gaining hands-on experience at HHS

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