U of S College of Nursing launches mentoring technology

by Phil Ambroziak

For decades, authors and artists have depicted the future as a world of wondrous inventions and unparalleled promise. For residents in northern Saskatchewan looking to pursue a career in nursing, the future is now.

Recently, the University of Saskatchewan College of Nursing launched an innovative platform, which will allow nursing students who reside in the North to learn where they live. By using remote presence technology – or in layman’s terms, a robot – the students will have access to faculty and mentors without having to physically attend the university.

“The goal of launching remote presence technology is to address the critical shortage of health care workers in rural and remote communities,” said College of Nursing professor and dean Lorna Butler. “The pursuit of post-secondary education should not be disadvantaged by geography. This technology will help us overcome many of the barriers to accessing continuing education and health services by offering students the opportunity to obtain a first-class education without leaving their communities.”

The robots have been deployed to the Northlands College Nursing Skills Lab in Air Ronge and the Keewatin Yatthé Regional Health Authority at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Centre in Ile-a-la Crosse. The robots will allow faculty members located at the three College of Nursing sites in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert to “beam in” to the northern sites on demand.

According to Richard Petit, CEO of the Keewatin Yatthé Regional Health Authority, northern communities need more health care professionals, specifically registered nurses.

“We see this as a huge opportunity for recruitment and retention,” Petit said. “The more people who can be trained here, the more people will remain to work here. We want to retain employees for the long term – that’s our goal.”

Last fall, Keewatin Yatthé launched a four-year nursing program, which has proven popular enough to attract more than 50 students to date. The new robot would be introduced to second-year students in September.

“I was quite amazed when I saw what the robot could do,” Petit remarked. “The robot will be situated at the facility, but controlled by someone – whether it be a professor or a technician – at the university. It will provide a huge opportunity for people who are unable to travel because of cost restrictions or because of family.”

According to Mark Tomtene, director of information and communications technology at the College of Nursing, the robots are connected over broadband Internet through local Wi-Fi service, and accessed and operated remotely through encrypted data from a licensed control station composed of a laptop computer, webcam and USB joystick.

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