Placement Diary Closure

languageI am finishing up the end of my fourth year placement. There are a few loose ends to tie up such as changes to the coding of the dataset for the study I have been working on all year. The study is about community access to school and municipal space. Once the coding is done and I have written my share of the research methods, it goes together with the qualitative data to become a real published study that will be peer reviewed. The idea of peer review is intimidating. The purpose of qualitative data is characterize rather than quantify information or in some interpretations to put a human face to the story you are telling with the research.

Many question the validity of qualitative data, the validity (or credibility) and reliability (replicability) of quantitative research. In this society we like cold, hard facts because we see them as absolute truths. They are not of course and anyone who has stopped for a moment to consider some of the things that have been done in the name of scientific “advance” will surely see. Many in fact will say that it is only through qualitative data that a deep and meaningful study be made. Still others will say that specifically grounded theory research (in other words that which is built from within the population group itself) is the only way to tell the true story-literally in the words of the people whom it concerns.

This all said, there are as many or possibly more places to make an error in the collection, cleaning, coding and presentation of qualitative date. When you combine this with someone (like me) who has very little feet on the ground experience with research, you have a higher possibility of error. Despite this, I have been charged with the task of doing this part of the study and am greatly honoured that my supervisor felt I was up to the task. I have been fortunate in both my placements to have supervisors who were extremely flexible with the way in which I did my work and very generous in terms of the material they let me explore. After all, they are responsible for the output of those working under them so I am truly honoured.

The nature of a process has a way of information itself too. As this placement has unfolded, my first hand experience with the material (that of being a user trying to access public space) has also grown. This is an entirely separate story but suffice it to say, as I began to code the data, the stories sounded very familiar and the themes were easier to pick out. This might be serendipitous but it may also have created another possibility for error. It  has certainly created a need for constant checking and re-checking of my reflexivity (locating who I am in the process of research).

Now that my placement is wrapping up, I am both concerned and excited to see how the information will be received. I have had one great evaluation and am told that another is to follow so I’m not so I am not worried about the, well quantified, view of my work. It is, however, really important to me that the data that I present more than just an acceptable summary of responses on a survey. This data represents people’s stories, their everyday experience that informs programs that can impact lives of children, seniors and all others in their communities. I hope it is worthy of consideration and above all meaningful to someone.

Placement Diary Part 2

I am now five-eighths of the way through my placement at Social Planning Toronto. It feels like I just got here yesterday yet I have learned so much. Working a placement in both the third and fourth years into my already busy life has been a challenge to say the least. I have been able to achieve it with a lot of flexibility and understanding from my family who bear the brunt of my absences since I also work full time.  The other huge contributing factor though has been the incredible patience and support I have received from both of my placement supervisors. As a result, I have been able to cover an amazing amount of material and be exposed to a wide range of settings from front line work to research to policy development. I feel the sacrifice has been well worth it and now that I’m down to the last couple of months, I really want to make sure I do work that will make an impact. I will be working on policy piece on Student Nutrition Programs (blog post to follow), a survey to educators about the impact of funding cuts on school programs and the coding and report writing of a Community Use of Space study.

In my third year, I did my placement in the perinatal group at the Queen West Community Health Centre so my work was front line with some of the city’smost marginalized people: homeless pregnant women. I loved the work and really wanted to continue with another service centre placement but, with my goal being a Masters of Education, it was important to get the research experience. I could not have been luckier. I landed a placement with Social Planning Toronto, a very progressive activist-orientated research and planning organization with an education wing. As if that wasn’t miracle enough, they are very supportive of my scheduling needs. My supervisor tends to work the later hours in the day that match up with my timing perfectly and I have had the opportunity to really explore a variety of paths in research and advocacy.

Next week, we will begin the coding of qualitative data from a survey we are working on that will be peer reviewed and published in the spring. The very notion of math terrifies me so I am quite astounded at how excited I am to sink my teeth into the data. I am also somewhat terrified that the work will go on public record but it presents me with a great challenge and I do truly believe that challenges are the key to retaining one’s vitality.

So for anyone else who is struggling with the notion of accommodating third and fourth year field placements, I would just like to say that it is all very worthwhile. More than the academic curriculum, it will be the placement experiences that will stay with me as I move on to graduate school and beyond. Social work is about people’s stories and there is simply no way to get that from a book so unless you already work in the field, the placement is the place to get that. If you approach it with energy and enthusiasm, you will be repaid tenfold.  I will let you know how I make out with the math though.

 

A Tall Order

Like many people, I cannot function in the morning without my daily jolt of caffeine. Apparently, a lot of people felt that way today as the line-up at the local Tim Horton’s was out the door. As usual, I was in a hurry so I went across the street to the gourmet coffee shop we affectionately refer to in our family as Fivebucks to order up a Tall Latte. The packaging has nice illustrations, the lighting is soft, an unnervingly peppy server wrote my name on the cup and as I waited for it, the strains of 1940’s music whisped around my head attempting to evoke a glamourous New York of a grander era when we still believed anything was possible.Then I plunked down my five dollar coffee (well, four and a half anyway) down on my desk and began to read the latest HungerCount Report, released by Food Banks Canada last month,

It is an understatement to say the situation is dire. Food bank use is still on the rise, increasing by 2.4% over last year but the unnerving bit as far as I could see was the broader context of people who are food insecure which indicates the problem is not a localized one we can zap with a few handouts. Food insecurity is a creeping symptom of larger social ills. Food insecurity, in layperson’s terms, means that you cannot access safe, nutritious and appropriate food at all times. In your lived experience, this might mean that you are just able to cover your rent (or even more surprisingly your mortgage) but you need the hamper from your local food bank to make it to the end of the month. It might mean that you do not have enough food in the cupboard to make a nutritious meal for your family so you pick up some fast food on the way home because it is cheap, readily available when the money is in your hand and of course, detrimental to your health. Food banks aim to fill some of these gaps but they face shortfalls and are built on a model of dependency. Thirty years ago, the first food bank opened in Canada as short term solution but, according to the HungerCount Report, 882,188 people turned to a food bank in March of 2012.

There are a vanguard of progressive solutions, many coming out of the work the food banks are doing, but they will be difficult to implement due to a lack of funding commitment on a large scale and also due to the critical analysis they require. The Stop Community Food Centre, for example, is a deep thinking organization offering a web of services including community gardens, education programs and drop-ins as well as hampers containing a three day supply of food. They are commonly seen as an innovator in fighting hunger and an incubator for progressive social change yet The Stop has actually dialed back its food bank role in favour of longer term, more sustainable solutions. It also encourages alliances with higher income groups, where traditional food bank models ask those that “have” give to those that “have not”. In contrast, as Nick Saul, former Executive Director of The Stop put it “we cannot overlook the importance of money”. He envisioned an entrepreneurial/social enterprise approach to fundraising which included offering fine dining and catering by The Stop’s chefs in order to fund the community kitchens and gardens. Not only does this pay the bills it also gets all kinds of people engaged in dialogue on issues of hunger and poverty.

Another important solution is the idea of hubs that cluster services, thereby sharing funding and resources while providing mutual supports. Community Food Centres that co-locate in Community Health Centres, which have more stable funding, are an example of this. I did my third year placement in the perinatal program at Queen West Community Health Centre. It is a community hub, where they offer more integrated services and care with a solid commitment to the Social Determinants of Health perspective which generally assumes if you are low on supports, your health will suffer. So if you were an expectant mother living on the street, this “hub” notion is really important. You can come in for a warm nutritious meal, connect with housing and social services, store your identification in a safe place, have your checkup, and stay warm afterward while you attend the perinatal program.

I remember one mother who came to a breastfeeding workshop, seeking a bowl of soup and TTC tokens and stayed on to keep warm. She told me afterward that although she had been unable to breastfeed her other children, she understood the importance of doing that for her baby and wanted to try again. This was significant because her chances of keeping her baby at all were slim. She had several other children in care and her health was so fragile, she had suffered multiple miscarriages. She began to attend the program almost every week and we were able to hook her up to several social services, including a social worker, community health nurse, a doula, and housing assistance. We facilitated meetings with her CAS PAC worker so that she could steer a course toward her hope of keeping her baby. She fiercely defended her right to keep her child and though it was terrible to watch, this person who quietly came in seeking a bowl of soup had rallied her strength at a point in her life when she was probably the most vulnerable, and came up fighting. The point I’m trying to make is that the effects of hunger and poverty compound over time, reaching into every corner of a person’s life and it requires a lot of support to rebuild a life.

Poverty and food insecurity cannot be attributed to one root cause but together they represent multiple intersecting factors. Solutions must critically examine and challenge the mechanisms in society in order to be sustainable. Our food chain itself is a central site of oppression with hundred dollar square watermelons on one end and 59 cent Ramen loaded with palm oil on the other. Anti-poverty strategies are built from the ground up but they must be funded adequately. Many agencies, including traditional food banks, operate on a unilateral approach that tries to fill gaps but doesn’t have the resources to empower users with a more bottom-up approach. Antipoverty strategies set their sights on developing deeper, more meaningful long-term strategies that address the availability, accessibility, acceptability, appropriateness and agency aspects of food systems (Ryerson Centre for Studies in Food Security, 2012). These approaches are difficult to implement because they require stable funding that will only be made available if we can raise the ire of the status quo on issues of hunger.

There is more than enough food in Canada for everyone to be able to eat yet food bank use has grown a staggering 27% in the past five years (HungerCount Report, 2012). Poverty and hunger are often couched in political terms yet there is a surprising lack of commitment to change. The War on Hunger is a noble one, one that most people are willing to chip in the cost of an overpriced latte to solve. Most of us, although few comprehend the epic scale of scale of child poverty in Toronto, understand the sickening fact that children are too often the victims of this “war”. As a society, we prefer to support cuts to Ontario budgets that in turn are handed down by the school board in cuts to school nutrition programs. We could commit to breakfast and lunch programs that would feed a child for a whole day for less than a price of a latte and teach them about health and nutrition at the same time or we could get a tax break that does not appreciably improve our quality of life at all. We repeatedly choose the later, citing government waste as our justification. Every progressive solution that seems to work to combat hunger requires us to commit to a fundamental change of viewpoint and that is indeed a very Tall order.

References

Food Banks Canada (2012). HungerCount 2012. Toronto: Food Banks Canada.

Ryerson Centre for Studies in Food Security downloaded July 19, 2012 http://www.ryerson.ca/foodsecurity/

Scharf, K., Levkoe, K. and Saul, N. In every community a place for food: building a local, sustainable and just food system. Metcalf Foundation, Toronto, 2010.

Tarasuk, V. 2001. A critical examination of community-based responses to household food insecurity in Canada. Health Education & Behaviour 28 (4): 487-499.

The Stop Community Food Centre www.thestop.org

 

 

Mid-Term Tips and Strategies for Social Work Students

c. Ideabroad

Most courses in Social Work have a large paper due mid-way through the fall term. I consider this the most important assignment of the year in each of my courses because it can really set the tone for academic success. I figure if I write a really well-researched paper that flows beautifully and opens new ground, it goes to follow that I should get a good mark on it. Obviously, stacking points in your corner toward your final mark makes strategic good sense but it also sets the tone for the year. No matter how objective professors are, they are human and therefore, impressionable. If they take away a good impression of you out of the gate, it will probably be easier to maintain their expectations than it would be if you were trying to re-gain them after a false start.

For those of you new to Social Work, one of the keys to getting good marks is also a key to making you a good Social Worker. Ryerson, as you know, practices from an anti-oppressive (AOP) perspective which means your paper must be reflexive (examines the circular intersecting relationships at play) and critically examines and identifies both your motivations and your social location. AOP assumes that there are no neutral, arms length participants. It is unfortunately very easy to spot fakers in this regard so make sure that you examine your praxis (the process by which you engage your theory) at every turn. On a final note, you should also make sure that you identify the critical framework that you are operating from and that you correctly site all your sources.

Speaking of midterms, hopefully you’ve stayed on top of that reading, made good notes and summarized in-class lectures so that when it comes time to synthesize a term’s work of course material into study notes, this will be an easy task. In my first degree, I spent little time talking to my classmates, preferring to study alone and hang out with my friends outside of school, all of whom were in architecture for some reason. Going back to complete my second degree, I realized how valuable the relationships with my classmates really are. Many of them have a lot to contribute to the academic discourse and some of them are people have perspectives I would not typically encounter in my peer group. They also provide a great opportunity for networking later on and most pressingly, they may make good study companions for mid-term exams. Finally, you may find that it’s helpful to sound off some of your ideas for your paper to people in your courses or that simply the act of verbalizing your ideas to another person will give you the confidence and impetus to start writing.

Placement Diary One: A Step Up

 

A Step Up

I’m doing my fourth year placement which is the last credit required for my degree. While it still seems a very long way off, I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I began my Social Work degree many years ago and basically, I had to give it up because there was no possible way to fit two placements and a full time job into my schedule. I was starting out in my career and had no status or power to ask for time off and even if I did, I could not afford to go to school full time and live on part time wages. When I finally decided at the ripe old age of 38 (!) that I wanted to pursue graduate work, I looked around at my options. I have a BA in English with average marks. The graduate program I wanted to get into doesn’t look at less than an A average. I did well in my Social Work studies but I had not completed my degree. So my strategy was to get as many academic credits with top marks as I could and then plead my case for graduate school. It never occurred to me that it would be possible to complete the placement portion of the degree.

Then it came time to apply for a third year placement and I decided to go through the process to see where it led and I was sent out to The Stop for an interview. I went to the interview because I think The Stop is such an amazing organization but it quickly became apparent that there was no way my schedule (work and two children, one of whom was two months old when I went for the interview) could stretch to fulfil the commitment so I turned it down. The next year I once again went through the placement process, completely dispirited and feeling like I was wasting my time. Through the combined efforts of a really supportive Third Year Placement Co-ordinator and very progressive placement setting who were willing to accommodate my schedule, I did my year at Queen West Community Health Centre. Over the course of the year, I gained first-hand experience with front line work in the perinatal program as well as program planning and facilitation experience in the parenting advocacy group. Throughout the process, I made some great contacts in the field and got good reviews.

When it came to the fourth year placement, the last credit of my degree, I was motivated to do whatever it took to put in the time-a yawning chasm of 556 hours-but I figured that would be at the expense of my choice of a placement setting. I went in to see someone at the school and they agreed that my options were going to be less than, well, choice. So I was really surprised to get an offer to interview at Social Planning Toronto, a really progressive research and advocacy group I’d read about often. Once again, I was lucky to find a Placement Supervisor who is flexible and supportive of my schedule for which I am very grateful. She let me choose my area of study from the studies they are working on (housing, recreation, poverty and education) so I chose to work with the group who are conducting research on the effects of cuts to arts and recreation funding in the TDSB on families. This study maps perfectly against my MEd application and draws on my prior career experience in the arts and my personal history as a parent. I did not expect to get hands-on research experience at the undergrad level and find myself once again very grateful for the opportunity and also thankful that I had such a great professor for the third year research course.

All positivity and optimism aside, this year is going to be an epic struggle We are on such a tight schedule there is no downtime and my husband is picking up a lot of the slack at home, where we normally share duties. I don’t see my children as much as I’d like to and because they are still so little, I feel really guilty about that and once the kids are down, I go straight back to work. That said, I know I am very lucky to have enough flexibility at both work and my placement to map together the hours required by each. I strongly feel that in order to be truly AOP, some of these barriers to, of all disciplines, Social Work education must be addressed for students. I do think, however, that the placement I am doing now will give me a step up to my future in education and I am really excited about that.

 

Putting a Few Things In Place for Placements

Last year, I did my first placement required for my BSW at Queen West Community Health Centre. They are a pretty big, well organized institution in comparison to many placements out there so it was very easy to get organized. They contacted me in August, told me they’d need to run a police check on me and asked me to report in the first week of September for a rally at City Hall. When I arrived at the centre the first day I had an office, an email and there was a schedule of work that needed to be done in a folder. In my first week, I was taken on a health and safety tour and a tour of the services offered to clients in the facility and around the neighbourhood. I was still offered a lot of latitude in terms of the projects I wanted to take on and I had awesome supervisors who really let me make the most out of my learning experience there but it was also great that they had so many organizational resources to draw on. From what I heard in class, that was not typical of many placements.

So this time, I am going to prepare myself a bit better. It is very difficult for me to find the time to do my placement at all with a full time job, two kids and a Montessori school running out of the main floor of our house this year so I will have to get organized and thought I’d share some of these ideas in case they prove helpful to others embarking on the placement process.

The Check In

Check first with your placement supervisor (that is the person at the facility who will oversee your work) if there is anything you can do to prepare yourself. You may not get credit for any hours you log before September but it really is a good idea to familiarize yourself with their programmes and requirements. If they need a police check from you, be sure you are getting the right one. A Vulnerable Persons sector check has to be ordered by the facility whereas you can go down to the police station on Bay Street to order a generic one on yourself. The clientele you deal with will dictate which one you need.

It is also courteous to check in before your placement starts to agree on your working hours and start date. These are not so fixed as the Field Education Guide would lead you to believe and in fact, the agency may have its own requirements of your time.

You should also check in with your Field Education Coordinator at Ryerson. There are probably forms to be signed. You might have gotten an email back in June (like I did) and just remembered that you were to stop by and sign something over the summer. The summer, it cannot be denied, is coming to an end so I better stick that on this list for this week.

The Planning

You probably went to a placement interview but it’s a good idea to double check that you are going to the same site/location where you did that interview. Plan to arrive a bit early in case there is a traffic jam or subway delay. You should view your first day of placement much as you would your first day on the job. Plan to arrive on time, dressed appropriately and willing to do that bit extra that will make them remember you. Someone told me that 10-15% of students end up employed at their placements some time in the future. That could be you so make a good impression.

Depending on your lifestyle, planning may extend to organizing yourself in advance. I am trying to tick off all those little jobs (mending clothes, canning, painting the porch) before we go away on summer holiday so that I’m not rushing to do them when we get back. Then I can spend a week or so getting myself and the kids ready for back to school. I also got a wall calendar for the kitchen and filled in all the appointments, deadlines, classes and social events for September. While we are away, I will also organize a rotational menu of easily prepared meals. This type of planning really goes against my nature since I like to pick up the ingredients for whatever I feel like making on the way home but I recognize that this is not an efficient use of time or money. If I plan a menu and shop once a week, anyone can cook it and we can stretch the grocery budget further.

The Fun Part

My mother used to take me shopping for a new school dress and shoes before the year started. We’d have lunch somewhere and then take my list of school supplies and tick them off one by one. I can actually remember the smell of them and loved putting together my backpack for my first day of school. I don’t think I need new shoes or school supplies for my placement this year but I do look forward to turning up the first day ready to learn new and amazing things in my chosen field of study.

 

Healthy Child Screenings Help

 

Today I got the chance to view social service from both sides of the table: as a provider and a consumer. One of the last duties of my placement was to work at the Healthy Child Screening. This program, which began in 1993 in South Riverdale, is really an extension of school screenings and well baby clinics that have been run in Toronto for nearly one hundred years. Teachers and caregivers then (like now) identified a need for early screening and education to enable people to access health services and improve the health outlook for children to enable them to grow into healthy adults who can be productive members of society.

Today’s screening at Cecil House (near Kensington Market) offered a range of practitioners including social workers, dentists, audiologists, speech and language specialists, nurses and dietitians. Children are referred from community centers, local daycares and drop in programs and roughly 2/3 of those who had appointments showed up today. The screening went really well and most of the practitioners noted that the children they saw today have fewer health issues than they have in the past. I’m not sure if that is attributable to a demographic shift in the area or if it really highlights the impact of community health education. Of particular interest was the improvement in the reports from the dentist. Even at the last HCS I attended in the fall, children (all of whom are under six but most of whom are 2 or 3) were receiving regular medical care but very few of them had been to a dentist and many of them already had tooth decay suggesting that oral hygeine protocols were not being followed at home. This time, however, the dentist said he was seeing much healthier mouths.

I know the topic of child screening can be a very loaded one. From a feminist standpoint, I have learned about the historical context in which screenings offered an opportunity in the past to press upon mothers the weight of male dominated “expertise”, devaluing the lived experience and knowledge that is accumulated by the act of mothering (loving someone so much more than yourself and bearing the full responsibility for their existence). With scientific zeal, it put babies on ludicrous sleeping and feeding schedules that served the interests and ideals of the newly legitimized profession of medicine. It imposed the morals and values of the military industrial complex on the most intimate of relationships between a mother and her baby. I also know that screenings offered some of the first state-funded healthcare to people who might not otherwise have gotten it and made one of the biggest contributions to child-saving that has ever been made: the Safe Milk Campaign.

So with this in mind, I was struck today by the few mothers who came in the doors today looking for the expert word on their concerns for their children but sensing that when they left, they would recover their authority as caregivers. I did not feel that reverence for the professional as much as I did at the last screening in which the outcomes were poorer and the underlying sense of blame was greater. I cannot help thinking the two are tied. Hopefully, they stepped outside those doors today, taking something useful away with them but knowing they had the power to decide what is best for their child.

As I said, I also sat on the other side of the table today. We have been waiting for quite some time for a Speech and Language appointment for my son. There is a four month backlog which is a long time, when milestones are measured in six months intervals and six months represents a quarter of your life. A child could wait a year to go through the intake, assessment and preliminary checks to rule out hearing problems before they begin to get speech therapy. So when there was an extra space today, my supervisor kindly offered it to my son who got his hearing test and initial speech and language assessment (as well as a visit with a dietician that answered many anxious questions we had since he is vegetarian and quite underweight). I found that practitioners were very supportive and actively listened to what we had to our insights on his development. I have to admit that my social location may have had some bearing on this response but I hope not. Sometimes when we work from an AOP perspective, it puts us in mindset of constantly questioning the motivations behind people’s actions. Perhaps the practitioners who were volunteering their time to reach children in local community settings are listening and honestly there to help without judging. Today I felt it would be okay just to let them.

Finishing

I’m 2 assignments – a paper and a presentation – away from completing my Bachelor of Social degree at Ryerson. While I’ve been thinking about graduation for some time, this only became real for me during class yesterday. Our prof distributed paint and canvases, and asked us to express our feelings about graduation through artistic expression.

I’ve never been much of an artist, and spent more time mixing paint colours together than creating a visual statement of my feelings. With a night to think on what my time at Ryerson means to me, and how it feels to be finishing up, I’ve formed a more in-depth reflection.

My undergrad has been a 5-year process; I started at Ryerson in Sociology. I loved the theory – Foucault, Durkheim, and Marx continue to influence me – but yearned for a more practical application of what I was learning. I switched into Social Work after a year, and I’ve never felt a stronger sense of belonging in my academic career.

During my first year, everyone around me was thinking and talking about issues that I was interested in, and the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson’s Student Union ran a number of engaging events. The course work in first year reminded me a lot of Sociology – we only had one SWP (Social Work) class – but I relished the opportunity to become part of a vibrant community.

Second year was when things got real, with 6 courses each semester. My head was filled with Healy, Mullaly, Saleebey, and other emerging Social Work theorists. I chose mostly political courses for my electives and began to form my ideology that would later inform my modality of practice.

I opted into an International Placement for 3rd year, which occured during the Spring/Summer following my 3rd-year course work. I took the extra time I had during the Fall/Winter to start engaging more heavily in organizations that I felt I would be interested in working with in the future. I also learned a lot about Social Work Research in 3rd year, and have already started applying my learning to real life.

My 3rd year placement in Bulembu, Swaziland was an unforgettable experience and is the source of some of my most cherished memories. To have been able to take this trip, and receive school credit for it was an unbelieveable privilege. I would not trade those 3 months in for anything.

4th year, which I’m a week away from completing, has also presented me with an incredible placement experience. I’ve signed on to a research project into developing a program for serodiscordant couples – where one partner is HIV-positive and the other negative. The program this study will produce is set to be the first of its kind in North America – based on an early environmental scan (our literature review might reveal otherwise). In coursework, I’ve been able to build ever further upon the theory I learned in 2nd year.

Overall, Ryerson’s BSW program has left me feeling confident about my future as a social worker. I could not be more enthusiastic about the experience I’ve had at this university, and am thrilled (and a little scared) to finally enter the real world.

Fitting it All Together

I am madly trying to finish the projects I have open at my placement at Central Toronto Community Health Centre. I have already blogged about how I learned so much more than I expected to this year. I checked off the “requirements” easily in the first few months: run a workshop (check), do intakes (check), attend a debriefing and steering committee meeting (check, check) and complete a client summary for the perinatal program me (oh crikey! I haven’t finished that yet). Well, guess who is spending the next few days poring through summaries and translations of summaries trying to determine -in a meaningful way – how well the program serves the needs of the women who attend it. This is my third run at the thing: I have abandoned the first two documents because they were either too reliant upon added up checkboxes or because the suggestions I made were inferred and not direct words from the participants. So now I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to take it.

I believe I have a Ryerson professor to thank for my conundrum. I took the research course with Purnima George in 2010-11 academic year. I dreaded the course. Like most people I feared the memorization and even more so the numbers (there were very few numbers in the end but there was a lot of memorization). Unlike most people in the class, I had a three month old baby who thought sleep was for whimps and just as my head would hit the pillow (yes, we co-slept, call the police), he would wake up with complaints. I managed to get the reading in for the course during his naps which were always taken in public because my son would only be lulled into sleep by the hustle and bustle of the local cafe and the thrum of conversations between the good people of Parkdale. My study group were good enough to hold council in my living room where my husband could deliver the little fellow for his almost hourly feedings. Their patience and willingness to trek across town (I was the only Westender) was truly remarkable.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever had a professor who changed my opinion on a subject quite as much as Purnima did on the subject of research or more specifically, Quantitative Research. In fact, her enthusiasm for the subject, her amazing research and her dedication to her ideals was a true inspiration. So as I prepare to take another run at this silly little summary this week, I believe I am holding myself to the standard she set in that class for veracity. It will not be the most memorable piece of work that I take away from this placement but it will be a good exercise just the same. I will likely remember the street mom who got a chance to mother her own child against all odds long after I remember the summary from the perinatal program and come to think of it, the voices of the minority population in that group are entirely absent due to structural barriers. I would not have recognized that before I took the research course but suddenly I realize it is those voices that are missing from the summary. How will I capture them?

Interestingly, I’m looking at doing a research placement next year. In the interview I told them I wanted to do a meaningful grounded theory study on education. Somehow or another the agency has funding for quantitative research which is simply a miracle in this day and age and they are willing to let me take it on. They are even willing to let me have input on what gets studied. My daughter goes to Montessori and I’m constantly amazed at how effective that method is at guiding those children to enjoy math. In three years they go from stacking boxes to long division in a seemingly effortless fashion. They key though is letting the child choose the work. So no one is more surprised than me to hear myself say “I choose research”. That is the power of good teaching.

Standing Out

“You’re unique – just like everyone else”


Almost all of my fellow first year nursing students that I have encountered thus far have said that they want to pursue a career in pediatrics (myself included). Sure, I expect that opinions will change over course of the next three years, but as it stands now, I foresee a high demand for the line of work that does not have the greatest supply. Since coming to university and hearing that most people have the same end goal as I do, I’ve only become more motivated to stand out from the rest in both anticipation of the real world and in hopes to prepare myself (both personally and professionally) for what I am sure that I will one day encounter as a nurse. At this point in time, I’ve really only touched the tip of the professional iceberg with some retail experience, a whole lotta babysitting and as much volunteering as I can handle. As I see it, it’s never too early to start building up your resume or branching out to make contacts in preparation for the real world, and so over the past few years I’ve been trying to do just that.

 

The other day, one of my fellow students and I were talking about what we envision for ourselves after graduation. I told her that I hoped that my volunteer experience in the health care field would help me to get to where I want to be in my career one day (if not for the experience just being listed on my resume, but for the skills that it will help me to develop) but she thought otherwise. In fact, this person told me that she purposely hasn’t spent any time volunteering or trying to get work in the nursing or health care field because she thought that the nursing degree which we will all graduate with in the end will be enough of a qualification to land a job. At first I thought she was joking, then I realized that I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, we all graduate with the exact same thing and if we’re all going to be going for any jobs at all then going above and beyond is the best (and only) way to stand out. No one’s going to hand you a job – in any field – and getting the degree is only one piece of the puzzle.

 

A nursing degree does not make a nurse, and it’s up to us to go above and beyond to foster the most personal and professional growth we can in ourselves – for any profession. I don’t see the sense in adopting the “least possible amount of work” attitude throughout university to try and scrape by and hope that a piece of paper and a few letters after your name will do the talking for you. Even if a bachelor of anything was enough to find a job in the real world, why would anyone want to limit their learning to that? I’d like to think that we’re all pursuing something that we’re passionate about but I know that’s not the case for all. I hope that this person smartens up soon enough to realize that when other people raise the bar by doing everything that they can to become the best that they can be, striving for the bare minimum just isn’t going to cut it!