School of Nursing identifies mental health “vulnerabilities” in new report

Students bringing forward mental health concerns at greater rate

The School of Nursing identified mental health concerns in new report.
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The School of Nursing (SON) began the semester by considering student mental health concerns raised in a new report.

In December, the SON released a new report that identified a number of vulnerabilities in the program, including concerns for funding and faculty workload, their physical environment, and student mental health. The Nursing Science Society (NSS) received the report on Jan. 2, 2020.

The Cyclical Program Review is a self-study conducted as part of an accreditation process that the SON undertakes to ensure that it’s employing best practices and offering a curriculum that remains current and applicable to the field. The last review was completed in 2013.

“By and large, the School of Nursing’s Cyclical Program Report is positive,” Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, vice-dean (Health Sciences) and director of the School of Nursing, said in an interview with The Journal. “It demonstrates that we offer high-quality programs led by strong academic faculty, and that on the whole, our students are having a great experience.”

However, Snelgrove-Clarke acknowledged the report picks up on a need for improvement in student mental health, a major factor in student success.

The report notes that students with mental health issues, like anxiety and stress, have been bringing concerns forward at a greater rate in the past few years. They’re also expressing performance anxiety in clinical practice settings, particularly during their first on-site patient care experiences.

In an effort to strengthen resources where students can access help, the SON has implemented some new initiatives to provide support, which were developed in consultation with and supported by the student-run Nursing Science Society (NSS).

To address the specific concerns about the effects of the clinical portion of the program, a resource nurse has been made available to support both clinical instructors and struggling students.

As a seasoned clinician and clinical instructor with many years of supervisory experience at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), the acute care teaching hospital affiliated with Queen’s University, the resource nurse is intended to assist in supervision, the development of learning plans, and the assessment of knowledge and skills, as well as to offer advice to clinical instructors.

Students also have access to a Remedial Clinical program, a resource that provides additional opportunities to practice and integrate required skills with a new instructor.

“This has been a unique program and a positive change where more learners are able to keep their program on track and on time,” Snelgrove-Clarke said.

As well, to further support mental health needs, the SON offers “de-stress days” for students that include food, activities, and social time.

In his Feb. 6 written report to AMS Assembly reflecting on the SON report, NSS President Alex Troiani said that while it’s “encouraging for the SON to acknowledge the issue, more needs to be done. The SON is the only school without an embedded mental health counsellor.”

However, when The Journal inquired about why the SON doesn’t have an embedded mental health counsellor, like the Faculties of Arts and Science, Engineering and Applied Science, and Commerce and the Schools of Graduate Studies and Medicine, Snelgrove-Clarke said the faculty is one of a few that don’t offer the service.

SON is, however, currently in the process of piloting a faculty wellness coach.

The report also suggests that mental health is a concern for faculty within the SON, stating that “[a]s important as mental health is to our student population, the faculty also has expressed the need to balance workload and personal life to avoid the pressure of work-life stress.”

As such, the report includes the creation of a “[h]ealthy workforce” as one of the goals and aspirations of the program, aiming to address “faculty work-life balance, general wellness, and a healthy work environment overall.”

According to Snelgrove-Clarke, the current review has been shared widely with its faculty and students.

“Student mental health is a major priority of the School of Nursing, which is why it was addressed in the report.”

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