Nursing students warn time lost to teacher work stoppage could hurt patients

York University nursing students are concerned they're being thrown into hospitals lacking crucial skills after losing up to 100 clinical hours due to the strike, and they're worried that will adversely affect the patients they'll care for.

Olivia Corrado, Negin Feiz Arbabi and Lisa Dowd are in their second year of a concentrated two-year program.

"It's actually scary when you think about it because we are being released into hospitals without having the skills that we need," Corrado told CBC Toronto.

Three months of their education was compromised, they say, by the nearly five-month-long strike, which lasted from March 5 to July 25. Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government legislated the strikers back to work during a special summer sitting at Queen's Park.

It was the longest work stoppage in Ontario post-secondary history.

Corrado says after weeks off school, they were thrown into a tough position starting placements in hospitals.

"We went into our summer semester, which was arguably one of our most difficult placements, lacking the necessary skills we needed to start off," she said.

According to the program's website, the degree takes a "patient centred" approach. But Corrado says students missed up to 100 clinical hours, which are spent learning in hospital, between two semesters.

"For the winter semester, they had four hours in the nursing simulation lab for all of the nurses that missed 60 hours of placement, which is not sufficient to cover all of the lost time," Corrado said.

'It impacted my mental health'

Negin Feiz Arbabi says she was under a lot of stress when she started her last placement.

She says she was put into situations where she had to figure things out on her own, including how to do a dressing for a stoma — an artificial opening in a patient's abdomen that allows faeces or urine either from the intestine or from the urinary tract to pass.

"I had never done it before. Some of the nurses on the unit were too busy to go through it with me," she said.

Ontario introduced and passed a legislation to refer any outstanding issues to binding mediation-arbitration. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

"Thankfully I was able to do it properly. But the whole time I was doing it, I didn't feel very confident. I didn't feel I was prepared. As a result, I was stumbling over what I was doing. I'm sure the patient picked up on my discomfort."

Feiz Arbabi adds that the entire strike experience took a toll on her health. She says she had to call in sick to her part-time job multiple times, and when school returned, she was overwhelmed playing catch-up with the workload.

"It really impacted my mental health, even my physical well being."

'I would like some compensation'

Lisa Dowd says several students have signed a petition asking to be reimbursed for part of their tuition.

"A lot of our courses that were supposed to be in person were modified to online courses, so it's very self-directed. We're kind of thrown to the sideline and left to do it ourselves," she said.  

"This is our lives, this is our future. I would like at least some compensation."

The students said they paid over $ 1,000 for clinical experience and lecture time they didn't receive in full.

'We acknowledge their frustration and disappointment'

Janice Walls with Media Relations at York University sent CBC Toronto a statement saying the school "sincerely regrets that the students' academic years did not unfold as they had planned.

Her statement added that students had access to online materials throughout the strike and course directors made themselves available to review concepts.

In a statement to CBC Toronto, York University said the nursing course directors took great care to ensure the academic integrity of the program was maintained. (Talia Ricci / CBC News)

"Their nursing course is not based on completing a minimum number of training hours.  Rather, the nursing program is competency-based," the statement reads.

The university says it has made a tuition credit opportunity available, allowing students who chose to drop their courses and retake them in the Fall 2018 semester to do so at no cost.

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