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Mount Royal Helps Revive Northern ICU

lorna_estabrooksMount Royal College's Department of Advanced Specialty Health Studies is training nurses in a northern hospital so it can re-open its Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

The Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, N.W.T. closed its four-bed ICU last June because it had only three nurses with the required training. It was the only ICU operating in the Northwest Territories, so patients have had to be flown to Edmonton or Northern B.C.

In January, four nurses from the hospital began taking the four theory courses required for Mount Royal's 22-credit certificate in Advanced Critical Care Nursing (ACCN) through videoconferencing and e-mail. They'll complete the courses by March 14, and then spend six weeks in clinical practice in Calgary's Peter Lougheed and Rockyview hospitals.

This isn't the first time Mount Royal's program has allowed a small community to offer specialized medical care. In January 2002, five nurses from the Cranbrook Regional Hospital took the certificate program so that hospital could reopen its ICU after a six-month closure.

Although it's rewarding to fulfill an important need, in some ways it's sad, because we're meeting crisis needs, says Lorna Estabrooks, Coordinator of the ACCN program. Susan Murdoch, Nurse Educator/Mentor at the Stanton, says the dearth of ICU nurses is partly a result of a national and international shortage of nurses, made worse by the northern location.

The biggest thing we've faced in this past year is a major shortage in specialized areas. Because it's difficult to recruit experienced nurses in the North, the hospital is choosing to train nurses currently working at the hospital for those specialties.

With these four nurses, two others who had already begun the program part-time, and some with ICU experience, the hospital will have the nine-person complement it needs to run the unit.

The hospital contacted Mount Royal last October, Estabrooks says, partly because they'd heard about the Cranbrook ICU and partly because a couple of their nurses had taken Mount Royal nursing courses.

The program is keeping the four nurses- all women- busy, Estabrooks says. They're being fully paid while they study from home, and it's interesting, because their colleagues right now are saying, "What are you doing at home?" But the program is extremely intensive. Normally, students would take 12 credits in a four-month period. We're doing almost 18 credits in 10 weeks.

They work on course modules on their own and take part in class discussion through 1-2 hour videoconferences once or twice a week. Support from Estabrooks and Instructors Holly Mackin and Frankie Wong is also given through phone calls and e-mail. Their exams are written and proctored in Yellowknife, sent here, and feedback is given by phone and e-mail.

These are women who have degrees in nursing, or have worked in nursing for many years, Estabrooks says; going back to school after a long hiatus makes it more challenging. They're doing extremely well. They're strong students and they have a desire to do this - they see a goal (the reopened ICU) in it as well.

Photo: Lorna Estabrooks, Coordinator of the ACCN program

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Posted: Monday , February 24, 2003