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Jenna Toogood and Saleen Shivji walk down one of the back halls at Kiwanis Place towards the work room where they, along with the rest of their group from their Nursing 202 class, meet to discuss the day’s activities and hold different clinical services for the seniors living in the building. Today, the nursing students are hosting a blood pressure clinic. A long line stretches out from the room and down the hall of seniors looking to take advantage of the services the students are offering to help the young nurses gain some real world experience.
“I was not expecting this many people to be waiting to have their blood pressure checked,” Shivji says with a laugh.
Both Shivji and Toogood are their second year of nursing studies at the University of Alberta. They explain that their first year of studies was heavily focused on classroom lectures and that the second year is their first chance to go out into the community and put what they’ve been learning into practice. As Toogood explains, she and Shivji both had some preconceived notions as to what their experiences were going to be working in a seniors apartment and lodge.
“I really didn’t understand the difference between nursing homes and independent seniors living,” says Toogood. “I was really surprised to see how healthy and active everyone at Kiwanis Place is and my experiences here have really changed my assumptions as to what seniors and aging are like.”
Toogood and Shivji are part of just one group of seven nursing students spending their semester at Kiwanis Place. All nine GEF Seniors housing lodges are hosting nursing students for the semester, totalling more than 100 nursing students receiving their first practical health care experiences working with seniors. The students work with the seniors directly on different real world project like documenting health history and wellness clinic such as hand massages. For Toogood and Shivji, the regular daily activity they wound up enjoying most surprised them.
“I think there is this big generation gap between me and the seniors who are living here, so I love just talking with them and hearing all of their stories,” says Shivji.
“When you’re in a classroom all day, you don’t interact much with people and that therapeutic communication is so important when working as a nurse. It’s building a good relationship and a lot of trust that can do so much for a person’s health and wellbeing,” says Toogood.
The group of Nursing 202 students working at the Virginia Park lodge echo Shivji and Toogood’s sentiment on the importance of communicating with the patients. In fact, the previous week’s clinical work for the students was focused entirely on connecting with a resident and beginning the process of building trust.
“Having that good communication and connection with the resident helps the healing process,” says Carlina Allegretto, one of the students in the Virginia Park group. “It’s treating the emotional side of healing, which can have a powerful effect.”
Brook Sherwin, another student from the Virginia Park group, explains how the connections from the previous week has helped them in their more practical clinical work, which has included hand hygiene and documenting health history.
“It’s one thing to just go through a list when you’re working on someone’s health history, it’s another to actually have a connection where that trust it built and they’re willing to disclose this medical information,” says Sherwin. “Here, we’re working in a natural setting and we’re not just going through a list. The seniors we’re working with can go at their own pace.”
“Learning to communicate with older adults and having those positive connections has been helpful and is going to be important when we work as nurses,” adds Danielle Zelt, another nursing student with the Virginia Park group. “This whole experience has been about taking what we learn in textbooks and applying it to real life.”
Though Toogood and Shivji aren’t sure just yet which way their nursing careers are going to take them, both see the value in the practices that help seniors live with a better quality of life and are seeing their interests grow in seniors health. They both credit this growing interest to their work at Kiwanis Place.
“I have a new love for doing puzzles,” Shivji says with a laugh. “Working directly with people like this is a lot more fun than sitting through a lecture”
Lawrence Tomkow runs his hand along the top of one of the picnic tables outside of the Virginia Park Lodge. The outdoor space is used for gatherings, outdoor meals, and behind Tomkow is a garden with a wood laced lattice. The residents and tenants living between the four Virginia Park buildings (three apartments and one lodge) use the garden to grow flowers and their own vegetables. Tomkow’s eyes move from the picnic table and land on the wood frame around the garden’s lattice.
“I think I did a pretty good job with these,” Tomkow says, nodding with pride.
Tomkow spent the summer refinishing many of the wooden outdoor features around Virignia Park, from the picnic tables and park benches to the wood finishings around the exterior of the building. For Tomkow, not only was refinishing all of wooden outdoor wooden details something to help keep him busy over the summer, it was something he noticed early on needed to be done.
“They hadn’t been fixed up in quite a while,” Tomkow says. “So I figured, why not? I’ll fix them up. It needs to be done, so I’ll do it.”
Tomkow moved to Virginia Park in 2013 but was already used to lending a hand whenever he could. He explains that he used to live in a condo complex where he helped with the upkeep of the grounds. At 70 years old, he still doesn’t shy away from hard work. Before his retirement, he worked in transferring patients at the Royal Alexandra Hospital between wards. So, sanding down and re-staining some outdoor wood features is relatively simple work for Tomkow.
In addition to his help with the outdoor wooden features, Tomkow also takes it upon himself to sweep up all the surrounding parking lots around Virginia Park after the winter thaw, making sure all of the sand and salt is off the concrete for his neighbours and visitors to park at.
“For a couple of hours a day, it’s not going to kill me,” Tomkow says with a laugh about all the work he does for the community he calls home. Though he doesn’t have any plans yet for what his projects will be over the winter and into next summer, he knows there’s always something he can lend a hand with around Virginia Park.
Tomkow looks back to the wood frame around the lattice, running his hand along the smooth wood finish. His laugh is distinct and contagious and he’s always willing to make himself the butt of a joke. “I had to be careful while staining the frame here,” he says with a growing grin and a chuckle. “The gardeners here would kill me if I got any stain on the plants.”