What’s Behind the Masc?

What’s the difference between girls and boys? Looking at a thesaurus will give you a good idea. Under feminine you will find words like: girlish, softdelicategentle, and graceful. Under masculine you will find words like: virile, manly, muscular, strong, strapping, well built, robust, brawny, powerful, red-blooded, vigorous, rugged, and unwomanly. On paper it would seem that girls and boys are very different, but in reality they are both humans capable of the same emotions and capacities. Yet as a society we do not let that be the prevailing idea, we choose to box each other up and apply these antiquated, sexist, and patriarchal values that are extremely destructive. We are slowly killing our boys with these unattainable and wrong constructs of what it is to be a man and the fear of being thought of as a woman or of having feminine characteristics. We are slowly but systematically turning our boys into angry, abusive, sexist, depressed, violent, and emotionally depleted rapists, murderers, and fathers. We are dehumanizing them without even realizing what we’ve done.

Recently, the Faculty of Communication and Design created the Centre for Fashion Diversity and Social Change. The centre’s pilot project is Refashioning Masculinity which aims to create a society where we’re all free to be ourselves and can equally value each other in all our diversity. They are using the power of fashion to re-imagine men’s gender identities and foster their diversity. As part of this project the centre held a screening of the film The Mask You Live In. The film follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. The film illustrates how society can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.

Gender norms are a part of our society, whether we like it or not we are constantly applying them and labeling each other and our actions as either male or female. This creates the idea that girls and boys are different and therefore should act unlike one another. This also seems to build on the idea that there is something wrong with you if you don’t stay true to these gender norms, if you don’t wear and exemplify your label. But what is wrong with a boy who cries or a boy who shows his emotions and knows how to live with them? In my eyes there’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with how society and individuals respond to that boy. Bullying and abuse is generally what follows when a boy shows emotion. Interestingly, if a young boy cries there doesn’t seem to be an issue, it is only as that boy ages and grows that he is expected to shut off his emotions with the exception of anger. We teach boys that they are not allowed to have emotion and this only leads to the death of self.

How is it that boys are taught not to feel? Our society holds ideals of what a man is and these ideals slip into parenting style and peer relationships via mass media. We teach our boys through example, we show them exactly what a man is and how to act like one. Unfortunately, we show them that a man is someone who cannot love and is entitled to respect. Someone of power who dominates over others and uses violence to win, never falling prey to feminine or weak character.

Looking first at parenting style, boys are expected to grow into men and mothers and fathers are the ones who will take them there. This results in a twisted parental fear that if they allow their sons to show emotion they will not become men, but will instead turn into sissies that will not survive adulthood. This may result in emotional neglect and shaming of sons from their parents, a form of abuse that leads to depression and poor self-worth and -esteem. This may also lead to physical abuse as a way of “training”, to dehumanize boys so that they can become “tough” and exude masculinity. Abuse may also been seen as a way to stamp out “wrong” behaviour. Parents often only have their own upbringing to use as a source of reference when raising their children and external influences such as internalized homophobia and sexism alter parenting style. This means that boys who become men who become fathers may treat their sons the way they were treated by their fathers, to pressure them into the way of masculinity. If a man was raised in a culture of abuse and has lived a life where he has not been able to express emotion and has developed mental illness he may abuse his own children as a result, teaching them his ways. Thankfully, this is not the way all boys are raised, parenting operates on a spectrum. However, even those boys who are raised with love are exposed to society and media which alter their view on the world and on themselves.

When boys enter the school system they become a part of their own micro-culture and peer groups which reinforce male and female gender norms that they learn either at home or from media. Boys pressure each other to be more masculine, to not act like a girl. Boys are pressured to fit the social constructs of masculinity out of fear of social isolation and alienation, but even when they accept these constructs they become isolated in their own minds with the inability to reach out. This further removes the emotional language from boys and harms their mental health. With this we see higher rates of depression and suicide among young boys. As boys age and force their emotions inward they become more likely to commit suicide than girls. Additionally, this inward channeling of emotion and snubbing of expression build up to the point where boys act out in violent ways. In media, including video games, music, film, TV, and pornography boys are shown that violence is a successfully and accepted way to handle anger. With this learned idea in mind combined with built up aggression and distorted emotional and mental health boys reach for violence rather than help.

This article may seem an extremist point of view, but it is not untrue. Why is there on average one school shooting a week in the United States? Why are 90% of the shooters male? These men are othered into “mental health” and the gender link is ignored. Perhaps the reason these boys have mental illness and explode in violent ways is because that is what they are trained to do, that is what they are taught is acceptable. If you feel any negative emotion channel it into anger until you can no longer withstand it, then express your anger with violence on others. Rather than, if you feel a negative emotion show it, ask for help and take off your mask.

Boys are human just like girls. They have emotion, they feel and they should be allowed to show those feelings. Masculinity has become warped to the point where it no longer even stands for strength and power, it means anger and violence. A man is no more a man when he cannot feel, he is no longer human. We need to teach our boys that to be a man is to have caring and compassion. We need to remove the masc from masculinity. We can be happy, sad, angry, confused, anxious, remorseful, fearful, guilty, grieving, bored, and loving.

Ryerson Stands with #BlackLivesMatterTO

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http://theeyeopener.com/2016/04/ryerson-students-march-with-blm-to/

Garnering a lot of media attention lately has been Toronto’s very own Black Lives Matter movement. A very pertinent social justice issue of our time, the Black Lives Matter movement holds its roots in our neighbouring country, the United States, where the current racial climate is centred on the persecution of the members of the black community. There have been numerous injustices involving the various police officers in different states of America, wrongly persecuting black individuals, namely, young black men. Unfortunately, for the majority, the result has been death for these wrongly persecuted individuals. This has led to a revolution in the black community; the Black Lives Matter activists used their voices to speak out on such injustices and bring honor to the fallen people of their community. They have protested various streets in the United States, asking government officials and police department officials to end the racial profiling and racial discrimination. The powerful voices of the Black Lives Matter movement in the States has been heard all around the world – including our very own neighbourhood, Toronto.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto – Coalition was is made up of Black Torontonians working in solidarity with various communities in our local streets of Toronto to work towards a common goal: social justice. This group has acknowledged the deep racial discrimination and stigmatization that black communities in the States have been going through, and have noticed similar patterns of behaviour in our very own neighbourhood. Currently, the Black Lives Matter Toronto activists have been fighting for justice for the death of Andrew Loku.

Andrew Loku was a 45 year old man, living in an apartment building on Eglinton Ave. W and Caledonia Ave. On the evening of July 4, 2015, Andrew was disturbed in his sleep by a significantly loud noise from his upstairs neighbours. He asked them continuously to minimize the noise, so that he can be able to sleep, but the noise persisted. Overwhelmed by the loud noise, and being unable to sleep, Loku grabbed a hammer and began banging it against the apartment hallway doors and walls. The police were called to address this particular noise. Within seconds of the police officer’s arrivals, a police officer shot Andrew Loku twice, killing him in the hallway of his apartment building.

Andrew Loku was regarded by all those who knew him as a kind and friendly man. He was a husband and a father to five children, and lived alone in Toronto, while working to bring his family to Canada from where they currently live in South Sudan. He graduated from George Brown College in the construction program, and worked various jobs to make ends meet for himself and for his family back in South Sudan.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition has challenged the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to release the name of the officer who shot Andrew Loku, having not been in immediate danger or threat himself. The identity of the officer has remained un-released while the SIU investigates logistics of the situation – such as whether or not officers were notified that the building in which they were responding to, the building that Andrew Loku resided in, was leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association. This apartment complex offered affordable housing services for people suffering with a mental illness. The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition have worked tirelessly in protest, rain or shine – snow or sun, to plead to government officials, such as Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, to address this serious injustice. As such, the officer who fatally shot Andrew Loku has not yet been charged for this unjust act nearly a year after his untimely death.

I have had the privilege of visiting the hub of the protests on 40 College Street, where I met protestors from BLM-TO. It was an environment unlike any other. While one would imagine a protest to have quite a tense, aggressive, and hostile energy, the BLM-TO exuded nothing but love and hospitality to all those who observed and/or joined the protest. There was food, water, warm blankets, gloves, and hats being passed around to the protestors – not just from amongst one another, but from the on-lookers as well. There were shouts of social justice, peace, and equality. There were cries and pleads of putting an end to racial profiling and discrimination, and a plea to the SIU and the Toronto Police Department to be accountable for their actions. There was music, dancing, motivating speeches, laughter, and deep discussions to honor the valuable black lives lost to racial injustices.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Ryerson students in solidarity with BLM-TO on campus the other day. The march was organized by numerous student groups on campus, in collaboration with BLM-TO, to protest social justice in and around the Ryerson community. With Ryerson being at the very heart of Toronto, it seemed only natural that Ryerson students stand in solidarity with our community. Among the student groups during this march for social justice included the Ryerson East Africans’ Students Association (REASA); Ryerson Student Union (RSU); and the United Black Students at Ryerson (UBSR). During the march, the students in protest used their voices to urge other fellow students to show their support by donating supplies, food, water, warm clothing, etc to the BLM-TO Coalition, to encourage the progression of the protest. Students on campus were eager and receptive to what Ryerson students and BLM-TO had to say, and showed their solidarity with the movement. It was a refreshing and culturally enriching experience to have witnessed – and frankly, it made me even more proud to be a Ram and a Torontonian.

If you would like to donate and show your support and solidarity, BLM-TO can be found here:

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Facebook

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Twitter

blacklivesmatterTO@gmail.com

40 College Street, Toronto, ON

Resources:

http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/the-life-and-bloody-death-of-andrew-loku

http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2015/07/07/andrew-lokus-death-by-a-police-bullet-came-quickly-witness-says.html

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

I don’t know if Samuel Taylor Coleridge knew how accurate his verse from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was when he wrote it. The World Health Organization estimates that everyday billions of people around the world drink water that will kill them because they have no other source. These people are forced to drink contaminated water because there is no safe water. Drinking contaminated water leads to infection and ultimately death from things that we don’t even consider diseases in the minority world, conditions like Diarrhea kill people everyday. The World Health Organization reported that 1.4 million children die from Diarrhea every year. This is why March 22 is World Water Day, to raise awareness about the global issues of unsafe water and lack of access to water. Ryerson Urban Water hosted Walk4Water on Tuesday to raise awareness about the lack of quality water sources and the lack of access to water around the world. The 6Km walk on Tuesday represented the length that women and children in the majority world must walk to reach a water source multiple times a day.

Ryerson Urban Water is a multidisciplinary group from natural and social sciences, engineering, and education that want to advance the understanding and provide solutions for urban water issues using a holistic approach. They work to educate the public, industry, and government on urban water issues through educational programs, community outreach, and training. Additionally, they provide a platform/forum for discussion and exchange of ideas on urban water issues for the general public, scientists, engineers, industry, policy makers, and the different levels of government.

Living in Toronto for my whole life it is hard to imagine having to walk father than my tap for clean, drinkable water. What’s even harder to imagine is that there are people in Canada who don’t have access to clean water. Even though Canada has probably some of the cleanest water in the world and has access to a vast amount of fresh water there are still people living without equal access. Our provinces and territories have a responsibility to provide us with clean water and our cities have the responsibility of treating that water to ensure that it is safe for use. But what happens when you don’t live in a traditional city or town? What happens when you’re isolated on a manmade island and ignored by people around you? Your life slowly deteriorates into the poisonous water that surrounds you.

This is the reality for the Indigenous people of Shoal Lake. On the border of Ontario and Manitoba there is Shoal Lake, this is home to two First Nations communities, Shoal Lake 39 and 40. Almost 100 years ago the City of Winnipeg wanted a clean water source and they came to an agreement with the Province of Ontario to use the water of Shoal Lake. To access this water they built a 135Km aquaduct along with canals to divert muddy water and in doing so turned the land of Shoal Lake 40 into an island. The people of Shoal Lake 40 have been living in isolation on this island ever since, using a barge to access the mainland in summer and walking across the ice in winter. During the spring thaw and the fall freeze the mainland is entirely inaccessible.

The people of Shoal Lake 40 do not have access to clean water. Their island is surrounded by the muddy water that is diverted away from the water that Winnipeg uses. The only way the people of Shoal Lake get clean water is by having community members truck in bottled water from Kenora. This is not only expensive but it is harming the micro and macro-environment. Due to the isolation of Shoal Lake 40 they cannot remove anything from the island, this means that garbage piles up contaminating the land and water. The obvious solution here is to make a water treatment plant that serves Shoal Lake and if this was not an Indigenous community this would have been done decades ago. However, the community of Shoal Lake 40 has been told repeatedly that their population is too small to justify the cost of a water treatment plant. Too small to justify access to clean water, too small to justify access to a healthy life, too small justify life.

In 2000 the community of Shoal Lake 40 was put on a boil water advisory which means that their water was contaminated to the point that it would only be safe to consume if it was boiled first, to kill the bacteria that infests it. Why was it allowed to get to that point and how long were these people drinking contaminated water for? I can’t answer these questions but I presume an uncaring government played a role. A government that prides itself on the work we do around the world, keeping peace and aiding those in need when our own people are dying in isolation. Our people are dying because they don’t have access to medical professionals, they are dying because we are stealing their clean drinking water, they are dying because they fall through the ice trying to access the outside world, and they are dying because we are turning a blind eye. How much longer must the people of Shoal Lake 40 wait for access to clean water?

There is one spot of hope in this whole tale and this is the new Liberal Government. In December of 2015 Justin Trudeau came to an agreement with the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba to build Freedom Road. This is a connecting bridge between Shoal Lake 40 and the rest of the country. No longer will the people of Shoal Lake live in isolation. However, they will continue to live with contaminated water. After almost 100 years of isolation the Indigenous community of Shoal Lake 40 will have unobstructed access to the mainland, but how many more centuries have to pass before they can drink water from their taps as easily as I can, as easily as we all can?

RNAO Region 7 Mental Health Workshop

On Monday, March 21, I attended the last event for the academic school year hosted by the RNAO: The Region 7 Mental Health Workshop. The aim of this workshop was to educate Ryerson’s nursing students about the importance of Mental Health in health care and the application of medicine. There was also an emphasis about actions nurses in the field can take to prioritize and maximize optimal outcomes for the mental health of the patient population. The evening consisted of a dynamic panel of speakers – all of whom are professionals in the field of mental health – that provided a unique and comprehensive perspective on the role of nurses play in mental health. Some of the speakers who spoke out on the issue of mental health include: Alumni of Ryerson’s Nursing degree program, representatives from the Toronto Police Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), and a new graduate registered nurse working in Psychiatric Emergency.

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Each speaker shared their personal experience in dealing with mental health throughout their clinical practice. The first speaker of the night – a Ryerson Nursing alumni who now worked at Ryerson to guide current nursing students as they navigate through this program – spoke about her experience with mental illness and working with nursing students. She spoke about nursing students being one of the most notorious group of students who experience the highest level of stress. This is all credited to a demanding, highly difficult, and competitive program; having to balance academic work with clinical placements; balancing extracurricular activities; balancing personal life; etc. All of these aspects can create quite a toll on the student’s mental health, as they begin to feel overwhelmed and over-stressed. Without a strong social support network, and without adequate coping mechanisms, the nursing student’s mental health may be compromised. They may feel isolated and depressed, their grades may suffer, their personal life and self-care may be neglected, etc. This speaker spoke about the importance for nursing students to seek help for whatever they may need; whether that’s academic or otherwise. She emphasized the importance of building a strong social support network, whomever that may include, and to take advantage of on-campus resources at Ryerson. Attendees were attentive and receptive to this speaker’s insights, as often times, nursing students neglect to take care of their self as they are too focused on taking care of others. Personally, I found it refreshing to be reminded that my own mental health is important as well, and that while the mental health of my patients is an important prioritization, it is important to take care of my own mental health. Providing care for others begins there.

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The next speakers for the evening were representatives from Toronto Police’s MCIT program. One of the representatives included a Toronto Police Officer who is specially trained to handle cases with individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The other representative from Toronto Police’s MCIT program was a mental health nurse, who is specially trained by Toronto Police to respond to cases with individuals who are compromising their conduct in society, due to their mental illness. This was a significant topic for the night, as the involvement of nurses in the industry of forensics is a relatively novel concept. Nurses typically work in the traditional health care environment – acute or community – whereas police officers work in their separate jurisdiction. Although there has been significant co-operation between both industries in several cases, the concept of merging both industries to address issues of mental health has only just been introduced. The speakers spoke about their individual experience with mental health as a police officer and as a mental health nurse. The police officer drew on different strategies he would employ to de-escalade situations where individuals who suffered from mental health were at jeopardy of experiencing trouble with the law. For example, as a police officer, he would often exert force and assertive actions in order to de-escalade situations and calm the individual down. If the situation escalated any further, he would be forced to apprehend the individual and take them to hospital to treat their mental illness. The mental health nurse described her role as the individual who would be typically more successful in de-escalating the situation and calming the individual down. She noted that most individuals tend to avoid police officers when in this state, for fear of repercussion, so they would prefer to talk to someone else. In this scenario, the mental health nurse is particularly useful in communicating with the individual, negotiating with them, and working with them to ensure they receive the most adequate care for their mental health illness. With both roles working together in the community, they prove to be a very successful service for the municipality of Toronto. They promote health and safety within communities in Toronto but addressing mental health crises experienced all over the city.

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The final speaker of the evening was a new graduate RN, working as a psychiatric emergency nurse at St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton. This final speaker was especially significant as not only was she working in the mental health field, she also experienced mental illness herself early on in her life. This was a highlight of the evening as not only did we get to hear the insights and perspective of someone working in mental health, but she was also able to enlighten us with her experience as a mental health patient. She spoke about the struggles she faced making sense of her illness as a young child, how it progressed when she entered university, how difficult it was for her to find the help that she needed, and what resources she used when she was finally able to find the help that she needed. She talked about ending the stigma related to mental illness, and emphasizing how important it is to understand that mental illness is a biological and chemical imbalance in your physiology, not an “attitude you just need to fix.” She spoke about not being ashamed about having to take medication for your illness, and how taking medication can be life-saving measures to take. It was refreshing to hear a perspective that was beyond nursing and professionals. Hearing this perspective from someone having experienced both sides of the spectrum – both the patient and the health care provider – renewed my personal way of thinking, and my own clinical practice. She talked about how her personal experience has catapulted her career and how she uses it to affect positive change in the mental health of her own patients today, and how her personal experience today not only shaped her as an individual, but has shaped her personal clinical practice.

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Needless to say, this workshop provided quite a dynamic and varied range of perspectives and insights on mental health. Nurses are often used to hearing quite similar and repetitive talks about mental health issues and what we can do to address such issues with the patient population. During this night, new perspectives and thoughts word brought to the table. It gave eager nursing students something to really think about in terms of new ways to tackle mental health issues. It opened eyes and doors to different opportunities that will enable you to affect positive change in mental health on a larger scale. At the end of the night, attendees were able to leave with a renewed understanding of what mental health means to them, their patients, and to their clinical practice.

Global Health Nursing Conference 2016

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On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, I attended the Global Health Nursing Conference held at the University of Toronto, hosted by the Nursing Undergraduate Society at UofT. The purpose and the theme of the conference this year was to shed light on Refugee and Immigrant Health.

This year’s conference is particularly poignant due to the current social climate regarding the war conflicts that have started occurring in 2011 (and are still ongoing) within Syria, and the large influx of Syrian refugees within Canadian borders. Throughout this night, we explored topics related to refugee and immigrant health, and ways in which nurses play a significant role in facilitating access to safe and appropriate for a vulnerable population. The wide variety of panelists, speakers, and session facilitators encompassed a diverse group of registered nurses [RNs] and nurse practitioners [NPs] from a variety of different global health backgrounds. They offered their experiences and perspectives on global health, the impact that nurses can create in health care on a global scale, and the types of work in which nurses can play a part in on an international health care level.

This event garnered significant attention from a variety of different undergraduate nursing students. The evening was comprised of attendees from UofT’s second-entry BScN program, Ryerson’s BScN program, Nippissing, York, etc. It was refreshing to see variety in different nursing backgrounds, making it an optimal night for opportunities to network, meet new people, and make new nursing friends!

The first part of the evening began with a panel of four RN speakers with diverse careers within global health. Some of them worked in various acute care and community health settings in different parts of the world (i.e Sudan, Ethiopa, Sierra Leone), implementing global health initiatives such as surgical programs, vaccination clinics, maternal health education, etc. Some of them worked within the local community (i.e Women’s College Hospital), addressing refugee and immigrant health needs and concerns in the Greater Toronto Area. Having these varied experiences and backgrounds in nursing come to light truly widened perspectives and opened many minds. The nursing students in attendance, a majority of whom have yet to have any solid exposure to global health nursing, were able to think of adequate health care outside of a framework that is well-resourced, highly affluent, and well-supported by a competent government structure. We were forced to think critically about what health care and health care delivery looks like in various populations and cultures, and how we – as Canadian nurses – can use our influence to affect change, in order to improve global health outcomes. Moreover, we also had the opportunity to think critically about how to address global health issues within our own local community. Various speakers spoke about what immigrants – specifically refugees – experience, in terms of health services, once on Canadian soil. We discussed barriers they often face to receiving appropriate care, such as a lack of adequate health care insurance coverage and a lack of unfamiliarity in terms of navigating a new system. The panelists did a fantastic job in articulating that our roles as nurses are to ensure that immigrants and refugees receive a care that is reflective of our health care system’s values and beliefs – that is, a care that is individualized, patient and family-centred, and comprehensive.

 A highlighted global health organization that was brought to attention during this period of the evening was Medicins Sans Frontieres [MSF]/Doctors Without Borders. A number of the RN panelists discussed their own experience in working with this organization and how MSF carries out various global health initiatives in a number of resource deficient countries. The purpose of MSF is to provide medical support and services where it is most needed on a global scale, and to ensure that health care systems and organizations are well-supported and have sufficient resources to deliver adequate care across boarders. More information on MSF and their work, as well as how to get involved, can be found on:

Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders

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The next portion of the evening was a dinner and Social, where we got to engage with the founders of the company iamsick.ca. iamsick.ca is a company that has created a technology platform in the form of an app and a website, to help facilitate access and equity to adequate health services in your own area. They have developed a system whereby one is able to access the most appropriate health care provider, for their specific needs, online. Furthermore, through this system, they are able to minimize things such as emergency visits, wait times, etc., as it specifically matches the individual’s health need with the specific health service and provider that addresses that need. iamsick.ca is a company that began at UofT and has grown over the last four years, with a large number of consumers that have been helped through its services. They work directly with healthcare providers and organizations to ensure that the link between patient and provider is more effectively established. iamsick.ca ensures that health needs do not go unaddressed and are addressed appropriately. For more information on iamsick.ca, please visit:

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The last portion of the evening involved Breakout Sessions, from which students were to choose whichever session they would like to partake in, to develop more knowledge in more specific niches of global health nursing. I chose to take part in the Sick Kids International Paediatric Global Health session, due to my interests in maternal and paediatric health. In this last hour of the evening, the Nursing Manager and the Advanced Nursing Practice Educator from Sick Kids International and Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health spoke about paediatric health and nursing care on a global scale. They spoke about their past, present, and future projects and global health initiatives to address gaps in international paediatric care. A significant gap that they have found in terms of global child health is that nurses internationally lack the advanced competencies of paediatric nursing care, making it difficult for them to deliver the care that their country’s paediatric population requires. Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health has taken steps towards developing a project that educates nurses abroad about paediatric nursing and paediatric care, in order to empower that country’s health care providers. This project has been a focus for a large part of their work and they hope to continue educating various nurses in various parts of the world, to ensure they receive adequate paediatric nursing education and training. For more information on Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health, and to learn more about their work, please visit:

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The Hospital for Sick Children – The Centre for Global Child Health

Needless to say, the night was successful and the nursing students in attendance learned a lot about global health and how nursing plays a pivotal role in global health. With Canadian nursing school curriculums having a strong focus on nursing in the local and national community, there is a significant lack in education about the work nurses do on an international and global scale. This conference has definitely enabled nursing students across GTA to develop their knowledge and awareness in global health nursing, and has inspired us to build careers built on the foundation of community health development alongside with acute care development.

2nd Annual Nursing Networking Night: From Graduation to Occupation

On Monday. February 22, 2016 – 6pm – 9pm – I had the opportunity to attend the second annual Nursing Network Night at Ryerson University – “From Graduation to Occupation”, hosted by the Nursing Course Union and Canadian Nursing Students Association (NCU-CNSA). This event began last year as a way to engage nursing students at Ryerson to be more involved, engaged, and take initiative in their career and professional development. It turned out to be highly successful in 2015 and garnered a lot of positive feedback from attendees. So this year, they announced their second event in order to continue encouraging nursing students at Ryerson to facilitate a smooth transition from graduation to occupation.

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The evening began with a few words of welcome from representatives from both NCU and CNSA. Then we jumped straight into a few words from a representative at Ryerson’s Career Centre, who shed some light on the basics of Networking. She was able to teach us the ins and outs of the process of networking – the do’s and don’ts, and the how to’s. She was also there to advocate and speak for the resource available on campus that is Ryerson’s Career Centre. The Career Centre is a highly valuable resource for Ryerson Students when in the pursuit if a job or to help facilitate an easier transition post-graduation to work and career life. They help students with things like making the ideal cover letter and resume, building your LinkedIn profile, interview tips and practice, etc. If you’re ever in need for great ways to build and improve your professional self, you can find Ryerson’s Career Centre at POD60 (located just below The Hub).

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After the presentation from Ryerson’s Career Centre, a couple of speakers who were Ryerson Nursing Alumni, spoke about their own personal stories and their journeys. They shed some light and inspiration as they talked about the different ways in which they were able to reach their goals of becoming an registered nurse (RN). This portion of the evening was especially helpful for the nursing student attendees as we were able to truly relate to these alumni, knowing that not too long ago, they, too, were in the same situation that we currently are in. Their stories of their journeys were captivating, motivating, and inspiring. It truly highlighted how personal the process is of becoming an RN and how nursing students can better prepare themselves for not just a job, but a long-lasting and fulfilling career.

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After the presentation from the alumni speakers, the evening moved forward to the dinner, graciously supplied by Chipotle.

After dinner was the highlight of the night: the Q&A panel. NCU-CNSA was able to get nursing managers from the major hospitals in the downtown to represent each hospital organization, and answer any questions we may have. The nursing managers and representatives came from Michael Garron Hospital (formerly known as TEGH – Toronto East General Hospital), UHN (University Health Network – comprised of Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital, and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre), and The Hospital for Sick Children. The line up of panellists truly excited the nursing students in the room – the majority of whom eager to work for such established and world-renowned organizations. The Q&A panel was the opportunity of the night to ask any and every question running through every nursing student’s mind.

“What is the ideal candidate for you?”

“What kinds of people do you prefer to hire – internal or external applicants?”

“What are the different kinds of interviews you conduct?”

“Do you hire applicants prior to completion of graduation and/or NCLEX examination?”

“How do you build a strong mentor relationship?”

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Needless to say, the Q&A of highly experienced registered nurses in executive positions within the most renowned hospitals in the country, did nothing short of answering each questions with clarity and efficiency. Not only did they answer questions well to the highest degree, they also offered valuable insight and advice as to how to begin your career as an RN. They were more than generous with their time and their thoughts on how to transition from a nursing student, graduate nursing student, to RN. The panellists were gracious and true role models for each nursing student attendee in the room.

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The night was a great success, as anticipated! Everything went smoothly, all in attendance enjoyed themselves, and nursing students were able to connect with their peers and their prospective employers. We learned how to market ourselves in the health care industry, how to appeal to employers and organizations, and how to prepare ourselves for the near future.

A Positive Outlook for 2016

Every new year offers a wealth of new opportunities for everyone. It’s a chance for personal reinvention – a chance for self-discovery and exploration. It is during this time of the year where the saying: “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day) rings loud and true for us all. While we take the time to reflect on the previous year – the highs and the lows, the successes and the failures – we begin to stipulate how we can learn from the previous year and take all that we’ve learned to better ourselves in the new year. Already being a few days in to 2016, some of us are either on the path to self-improvement or still trying to figure out what that path looks like. Whether it’s the first day of the year of the last, there is no right person to be. It’s okay to be the person just figuring things out just as much as it’s okay to be the person who has figured things out already. As long as you’re moving forward and investing in yourself, you’ll be okay.

The new year offers many opportunities to accomplish self-discovery. You can try something new like water-skiing or enrolling in a course or adopting a pet. You can continue to do things you enjoy and are passionate about, like write or take long walks early in the morning or take pictures more often. Perhaps you want to challenge yourself and do something that is completely out of your comfort zone, like learn a new sport or perform on a stage or travel to a new country. Seize the day – seize the new year. Allow yourself to do what you love and what is familiar, while also allowing yourself to try new things that challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone.

While we set these goals for self-betterment in the beginning of the new year, we have the idea in mind that by the end of the year, we’d have already achieved what we set out to do in the beginning of the year. In our heads, by December 31, 2016, we have already become who we set out to be in January 1, 2016. If this was a perfect world, this is what would happen for all of us. Unfortunately, we are all flawed and we live in a flawed world. So it’s okay to not have things completely figured out by the end of the year. It’s even okay to still be figuring things out at the end of the year. There is no set time line to develop a Bette sense of self (and if you want my opinion, 12 months is not enough time). So don’t be so hard on yourself if you didn’t manage to go to the gym 5 times a week like you promised yourself, don’t be so hard on yourself if you still manage to procrastinate a little bit throughout the year – mistakes are a crucial part of this journey to self discovery. As human beings, we are entitled to slip up from time to time and that’s okay. As long as you continue to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and move forward, you’ll be okay. You never want to aim for perfection – you want to aim for growth.

Growth is vital when a new year starts. The only thing you don’t want to be doing for the new year is restricting your growth. You don’t want to be exactly where you were in 2015 – making the same exact mistakes and never learning from them, doing the exact same things and never learning anything or doing anything new. All these things limit your growth and as the years go by, neither you nor I get any younger. We owe it to ourselves to nurture our growth each year and make sure that this year, and the many years after, are used to develop yourself in as many ways possible.

Looking ahead into 2016, we have the world at our feet. We are free to do whatever we wish. Just make sure we use this free will and the promise of 2016 to make a positive mark on this world for you and for others.

2015 was a remarkable year for us all. Let’s make 2016 even more remarkable.

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Disability and Absenteeism

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I hate missing class; it stresses me out and I feel like I’ve missed out when I’m not sitting in a lecture when I’m supposed to be.  Being the nerdy go-getter than I am, I rarely miss class and think long and hard before I do so.  Unfortunately, absenteeism comes with the territory of having a disability.  Those who have followed my blog over the past few years would know this but for those who haven’t, I have a traumatic brain injury.  Since the age of 16, I have experienced all of the lovely perks that come with a brain injury including headaches, nausea, feeling off balance, blurred vision, floaters in my eyes, shaky hands, fatigue, etc.  My symptoms have improved over the years but I still experience some daily.  While I try my best to go to class/stay in class, sometimes it’s not possible.

Fortunately, I have accommodations through the university to be able to miss class and not be penalized.  This was the first semester that I have been questioned and shamed for missing classes, despite having these accommodations.  I have missed two classes this semester and left early once.  I don’t miss any more school than the average student does but my absence becomes visible because I have to ask to use my accommodations.

I was really upset for being shamed for missing class but not for the reasons one might think.  Sure, I get really annoyed having to constantly explain that I have a brain injury and accommodations multiple times throughout a semester but what really upset me was how much I wish I could have been in those classes.

I didn’t miss those classes or leave early because I wanted to.  I would love to be able to wake up, attend all of my classes and do all the things I want to do without my brain injury getting in the way.  I don’t really like the words “high functioning” but I know that I’m extremely fortunate;  I’m doing way better than my testing and type of brain injury would suggest and post-secondary education is out of reach for many people with brain injuries similar to mine.  It looked like it was going to be out of reach for me as well at during high school. Even compared to the average student without a brain injury, I do a lot; I do well in school, participate in extra-curricular activities, hold a job in the summer, co-organize a student group, volunteer outside of school and have a busy social life.  Even though I am able to do all of these things, I’m not able to do everything that I want to because of my brain injury.

I missed a lot of school right after I acquired my brain injury.  My high school graduation was delayed a year because I had missed so much school.  For a few years, I only went to school for one class and took one through the home instruction program.  Sometimes I was only able to stay in that one class for half an hour.  I didn’t write any tests or exams, did no homework and had extensions for my assignments.  It wasn’t until my fifth year of high school that I went back full time and completed all of the course work (except data management but come on, the side of my brain that controls math skills is damaged so cut me some slack).  People have told me that I am lucky to have been able to miss so much school but it’s actually really sad to think about how much I missed out on when I look back.  I wasn’t allowed to sit in the cafeteria, I wasn’t allowed to go to the library, I wasn’t allowed to walk myself to and from class and I had to fight to go to things like football games, school dances, etc.  These things don’t make me lucky; the only thing about my brain injury that I would consider lucky is that one of the tears wasn’t closer to my brain stem.  This is what drives me attend school as much as I can now that I’m able to.

With that being said, I have missed too much school.  School is something that I love and I get very upset and annoyed when I’m unable to attend classes.  Being able to be a full time university student is a really big accomplishment for a person with a brain injury and I’m very fortunate to be here.  I want to be here and I want to be in class, especially since I’ve missed so much school in the past.  I already feel awful when I’m unable to go to class or do other things that I love; it’s a reminder that I’m not a “normal” student.  I don’t need to be shamed for this, I feel bad enough not being able to do the things I want to.

I try really hard to go to all of my classes, even when I’m not well, which means I leave at break sometimes.  There are some days that I don’t ask to use my accommodations.  I would rather lose the 1 or 2 percent participation grade if it means avoiding another awkward conversation where I have to disclose my disability yet again, explain what symptoms I’m having while my classmates stand a little too close for my comfort level to be having this conversation.  People with brain injuries struggle with social interactions at times, to keep having to repeat this social situation doesn’t get any easier.  While I’m quite open about having a brain injury, I still deserve privacy.  No one in my class needs to know that I’m leaving because my vision is blurred.

I’m not leaving because I want to, I’m leaving because I have to.  I have learned to listen to my body because if I don’t, I will be on the floor…literally.

Shaming me for not being present and drawing the entire class’ attention to my absence isn’t going to get me into a classroom.  Students with disabilities become hyper visible in a large class where most students maintain their anonymity since we have to ask for accommodations.  I can’t speak for all students with disabilities but as someone who has had to miss a lot of school, if I’m not present, it’s not by choice.

If you’re a professor or instructor, please know who your students with accommodations are and respect when they are unable to be in class.  We are given the accommodation of being absent for a reason, not because we want to miss school.  If you’re a student, please stop telling students with disabilities that they are lucky to be able to miss class.

If you are a student with a disability currently going through post-secondary education, it’s a rough ride but hang in there.  We are defying the odds by being here.

Photo from: www.angelabrook.com

4 Tips To Tackle Stress This Exam Season

Happy end of the term classes to all Ryerson students! Today marks the final day of classes for all students across campus, which unfortunately also marks the beginning of finals week for this semester. Stress levels are high and the campus is filled with scrambling student, all attempting to gather all necessary notes for all of their exams. Professors are finalizing exams and answering a million emails a minute, answering questions from stressed and nervous students. It is that time of the year when everyone is eager to delve into the holiday festivities, but also trying to find the best way to cope with and manage all the stress that comes with finals week and being a university student in general. It’s a happy but tough time of the year. Lucky for you, I have some tips that can maybe help you get through the stress, have you motivated for your exams, and ready for the holiday season!

TIP #1: COFFEE IN MODERATION

We all need our daily fix of Tim Hortons or Starbucks and when you’re a university student, it’s almost necessary. Coffee contains the magic C (CAFFEINE) that helps keep us alert for the day and focused for the lectures/labs/tutorials ahead. It’s especially helpful after an all-nighter spent studying, working on a project, or doing a paper (or perhaps simply getting lost in the world of Netflix…). Coffee is great – in moderation. Students tend to turn this “daily fix” during exam season to a “multiple times a day fix.” This can get dangerous and really impact your health negatively – it’ll send your heart rate through the roof, your blood pressure can be through the roof, your diet will be compromised – a lot can go wrong. Don’t over-do it with the coffee. It’s not something that you need to depend on to do well on your exams – your hard work and effort determines that for you. Limit yourself whenever possible and find other ways to stay away (i.e a cold shower in the morning, exercise, breakfast, etc).

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TIP #2: FIND A DESIGNATED STUDY SPOT

Finding a place to study and actually be productive is difficult. This is especially difficult in the middle of the busiest city in Canada – Toronto – where Ryerson is so centrally located. Luckily, we have the Student Learning Centre (SLC) to cater to our Study Spot Needs. First, it’s important that your study spot include a desk or a table of some sort to support whatever your study materials are. Avoid anything too small – the more space, the more room to support laptop, textbooks, notebooks, phone, etc. Second, try to find a bright space, perhaps anything with a big window or light coloured walls. Studying in a bright space with lots of light does a lot for your visual senses and makes it easier for you to sit somewhere for a prolonged period of time, staring at a bunch of words and/or numbers. It definitely lessens the load. Lastly, make sure your study spot is not confining. This means to make sure that the spot you choose allows you to get up once in awhile and move around. Not only does this gives you a break from sitting in a chair in front of your computer for hours, it also prevents any sores or muscle aches from happening, which comes with sitting still for hours. If you’re looking for the perfect study spot on campus, I definitely suggest the SLC (specifically floor 5! Not too eerie and quiet, but also quiet enough to give you some peace).

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TIP #3: DON’T FORGET YOUR DIET

Stress-eating can manifest in two ways: over-eating or under-eating. Some people can binge on junk food and resort to comfort food during such a stressful time. Some people can be so pre-occupied and busy that they may forget to eat and incorporate proper nutrition into their diet. It is important to find some sort of balance in your diet during exam season. Take comfort in moderation – have a donut here and there, get a Frappucino instead of your regular cup of coffee, get some ice cream. Also, it’s not the end of the world if you miss breakfast or have a late dinner. It is expected that your diet will not be at its healthiest during exam season, but it is important to keep in mind that proper nutrition is the best way to keep the mind and body focused and ready to face the day. An improper diet can actually lead to increased levels of fatigue and stress – which is something none of us need any more of during finals weeks. What we do need is increased brain power, which is something fruits and vegetables offer ample amounts of.

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TIP #4: SLEEP – TRY IT

Sleep deprivation – we all have it. Many students have grown accustomed to functioning on a lack of sleep but this tends to get worse during exam season, when we stay up and spend the night cramming and/or getting last minute things done. As a result, the lack of sleep can lead to even more fatigue, an increased dependence on caffeine, and even worse – the chance of sleeping in and maybe even sleeping through an exam. Yikes! The best way to avoid this is simple, but hard at the same time – get as much sleep as you can. Whether that means sleeping earlier and waking up earlier or taking short naps throughout the day, do what you need to do to get some rest and relax your brain. An overworked brain will only lead to more stress and sleep revives the mind, making it easier to study and tackle exams. Sleep is important and most importantly, it’s so relaxing!

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I wish all fellow students at Ryerson and all other schools all the best of luck during this semester’s finals week! Study hard, study well, and do your best! Surround yourself with positive vibes and do what you need to do to stay focused and motivated. We are so close to a well-deserved holiday break so we’re almost there! Hang in there. I’m rooting for you!

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Tie a Red Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree

In 1988 the world was so captivated by the sudden emergence and destruction brought on by an itty-bitty virus that they gave it its own international day, World AIDS Day. Every December 1 the world recognizes what has come and hopes for what will be for those living with and affected by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The World Health Organization (WHO) states that approximately 34 million people have died from HIV/AIDS and that almost 37 million people are currently living with HIV. Additionally, WHO states that there are 2 million new HIV infections each year.

To give some context, HIV is a lentivirus that attacks the immune system and reduces it to the point where an individual cannot defend themselves from other pathogens. Once an individual has reached the last stage of HIV infection, as determined by an extremely low level of white blood cells that leads to the occurrence of more than one opportunistic infection (tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc.) they are diagnosed with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is obtained through sexual intercourse and blood-to-blood contact with an infected individual, such as sharing infected needles, blood transfusions, and during pregnancy. HIV cannot be contracted through common day-to-day activities such as hugging, kissing, and sharing objects such as food and water. This may seem silly to point out but less than 20 years ago it was still common to be confused about the transmission of HIV. It may still be confusing in certain parts of the world where people are not educated about HIV. All of the confusion that surrounded HIV/AIDS is what led to the paranoia and stigmatization of people living with HIV and in particular homosexuals, sex workers, and intravenous drug users as they were the majority populations the virus was found in early on. Thankfully, due to education and awareness initiatives the confusion and by extension the stigmatization has been decreased, at least in the minority world. In the majority world it can still be dangerous to reveal your HIV status as there is still heavy stigmatization. Fear, stigmatization, and a lack of education are the primary barriers to the treatment and prevention of HIV infection.

While the treatment of HIV has been a long and bumpy journey, the prevention methods have not changed very much. There are few prevention methods for HIV infection but they are very simple. Harm reduction techniques for intravenous drug users, such as sterilizing and not sharing needles, and proper sterilization and disposal of medical equipment will prevent HIV infection. Additionally, for sexually active individuals the best protection is the proper use of male and female condoms. However, there have been recent developments in HIV prevention. This is the use of antiretroviral medication for individuals who are not infected but may be exposed to the virus. A pre-exposure prophylactic, or PrEP, is a once-a-day pill that impedes HIV infection in those exposed to the virus. If taken properly and consistently PrEP has been found to be an effective prevention technique. PrEP works by supplying the body in advance with HIV medications that lower viral levels in the blood, in an individual who is not infected the medication will stop HIV from spreading if they are exposed to it. However, PrEP is not a replacement for condoms or other prevention techniques, it is to be used in conjunction with them as it is not 100% effective. There is only one prevention technique that can claim to be 100% effective and that is abstinence, at least in cases of sexual or drug transmission. Along with prevention techniques there is a psychological side to HIV infection and prevention and Ryerson has been playing around with it for some time.

The psychology department at Ryerson operates the HIV Prevention labs. Dr. Trevor Hart and his associates conduct research on how to prevent HIV transmission among high-risk groups and how to promote quality of life among people living with HIV. Their current research is dealing with how HIV negative men who have sex with men protect themselves from HIV and those men who use alcohol and substance abuse to calm sexual anxiety. Additionally, their research revolves around the psychological aspects of sexual interaction, such as the courage and strength it takes to say no to someone who doesn’t want to use a condom when you do. Sex can be intimidating and sometimes we go along with what the other person wants even though we feel differently. If you don’t know the HIV status of your partner you should use a condom, be selfish and use a condom.

It is not surprising that Ryerson puts so much thought into HIV prevention, it has been educating its students on prevention methods for some time. In the 1980’s and 90’s Lynn Morrison, a professor of anthropology, headed education seminars and workshops to educate students on HIV and safe sex. This included practical information and experiences such as how to properly use a condom. At one time Ryerson had an AIDS awareness week and even a mascot, Condom Man, a giant penis with a condom on walked our halls handing out contraceptives. There was also the AIDS Education Project, which was a peer service out of Pittman Hall that provided students with AIDS information and support for those living with HIV. This is something that has survived time and can still be found as part of Ryerson Health Promotion (JOR03 and JOR04). However, there is something that has not survived time here at Ryerson, at least not to my knowledge, and that is the outright promotion of safe sex. It may seem outdated and common knowledge but how many students really use condoms or think that they will contract HIV if they don’t? HIV doesn’t seem like a threat until it’s right in your face. Moreover, we wouldn’t need an HIV prevention lab if HIV were not a problem. HIV is still very much alive in Toronto and Canada; 21% of the HIV positive people don’t know they have it and everyday 7 Canadians are infected with HIV. We need to think about the implications of our sexual habits and we need to have safe sex.

I use the Ryerson Archives for my Ryerson related research and as I was sifting through the AIDS related newspaper clippings I came across an article about a man named Steven Bailey. In 1992 Bailey spoke as part of the Nursing Students Association AIDS Education Conference. Bailey related the feelings that he had when he was diagnosed with HIV and the pain that it caused him to be labeled as positive. At this time in Canada HIV was heavily stigmatized and considered a death sentence as there was no viable treatment available. In the beginning Bailey told people that he had cancer because he found that he got more respect that way, people treated him better thinking he was dying of cancer rather than AIDS. Bailey believed he would beat AIDS, at a time when there was no hope that was all he had. Everyone living with HIV or AIDS needs hope and they need support. Someone infected with HIV is not the child of a lesser God, they deserve love and they deserve life. Bailey was 31 when the article was written and all he wanted was to live to his 35 birthday. I cannot say what happened to Steven Bailey but I can say that I hope he and anyone living with HIV is able to live their life to the extent they wish. HIV is no longer a death sentence and should not be treated as such; we should not continue to stigmatize those who live with HIV.

People living with HIV or AIDS do not need pity they need support. I call on Ryerson and its health committees to be vocal on campus. We should be informing students and helping them to be confident and safe in their sexual practices. We should also be supportive of those living with HIV, why make it harder for someone to find support? Lastly, I want to know what happened to Condom Man.

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