Nursing Society president pushing for embedded counsellor

Program’s wellness coach currently available once a month

Nursing Society President Alex Troiani.
Photo: 
Nursing Society President Alex Troiani and Rector Alex da Silva are pushing for an embedded counsellor in the School of Nursing (SON) after a recent report found more mental health support in the program is needed. 
 
In December, the SON presented the findings of their Cyclical Program Review in a new report. The review was conducted as part of a self-study by the SON to evaluate their practices and curriculum.
 
Among other findings, the report identified a number of vulnerabilities in the faculty, including concerns for student mental health.
 
Currently, a wellness coach in the program is available once a month.
 
“The SON sent me and the other class presidents the report on Jan. 2, 2020,” Nursing Science Society (NSS) President Alex Troiani said in an interview with The Journal.
 
Troiani initially expressed his concerns about the vulnerabilities in a Feb. 6 written report to AMS Assembly, but he thinks there is an opportunity for long-term mental health advocacy.
 
“The NSS has been advocating for student mental health for a while,” Troiani said.
 
Troiani praised the faculty for some of its current wellness initiatives like de-stress days’ for allowing students to socialize with other individuals who share similar academic experiences.
 
While he also called the faculty’s wellness coach, which was introduced last fall using private donations secured by the SON, a “huge step” in the right direction, he noted the wellness coach is only available to students once a month.
 
In particular, he’s pushing for an embedded mental health counsellor for the SON—a professional with specific mental health training tasked with supporting nursing students. 
 
“[Nursing] students have unique needs—when they go to Student Wellness Services (SWS) regarding clinical stressors, [SWS counsellors] don’t know what it is,” Troiani said. “You start your meeting by explaining what clinical is. It’s not accessible. It doesn’t work for students.”
 
It’s common for students to feel stress in the clinical practice setting, especially during their first on-site patient experiences. According to Troiani, the SON has been directing students towards their clinical instructor for support in these cases. 
 
However, clinical instructors aren’t trained as mental health counsellors.
 
They’re also responsible for grading the clinical practice program, a factor Troiani said discourages students from opening up about their concerns because anything shared with their instructor can show up on evaluations.
 
As the NSS continues to push for an embedded counsellor, they’ve been in contact with Rector Alex da Silva, who has told Troiani that SWS is in the process of acquiring one for the SON. 
 
However, when he followed up with Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, vice-dean (Health Sciences) and director of the SON, about this suggestion, she said they haven’t been contacted by either da Silva or SWS. 
 
When The Journal reached out to da Silva for clarification, she echoed Troiani’s concerns and suggested the SWS is in the early stages of addressing the issues at hand.
 
“It can almost go without saying that the academic experiences of Nursing students are astronomically different than those of folks in any other faculty. Simply put, most other students wouldn’t ever come face to face with some of the life-and-death situations these students have to experience,” da Silva said.
 
She added that it’s important the University provide support tailored to this specific demographic. Da Silva started this conversation with the last NSS president, Julia Kruizinga, but said the change in leadership at SWS and the implementation of the new model for care stalled progress.
 
According to da Silva, Ellie Sadinsky, the current interim director of SWS, has agreed this is an area with specific needs which must be addressed. 
 
“I’ve been so happy to see the pushing that myself and the NSS have done begin to manifest into plans for tangible improvements to fill this gap. I’m hopeful that this is something the new director of SWS will take as seriously as we are,” da Silva said.
 
“I’ve learned that this is a box that should not be ticked off with just the addition of an embedded counsellor. Rather, I hope that this is one part of a larger strategy to support the mental health in the SON.”
 

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