When you ask a five year old what they want to be when they grow up the answers range from firefighters and teachers to super heroes and cloud makers (which shows definite imagination). Rarely do they say they want to be in the health sciences field; it’s a particular career choice that usually occurs to a young person sometime during high school. But all the same, for many students who are in Grades 10 through 12 who have yet to decide upon post secondary education, the “real world” of health and healthcare in Canada is a mystery.
For them, often their only experience of the healthcare profession comes from visiting their family physician or maybe a trip to a local hospital’s emergency department. For some it’s the made-up world of television hospitals. What they don’t usually see is the huge breadth and depth of real careers that exist in today’s health-related fields. The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame’s TD Discovery Days in Health Sciences aims to change that.
Discovery Days are unique day-long events that put hundreds of Canadian high school students from rural and urban communities across the country into universities that specialize in health sciences. Armed with curious minds and a lot of questions, the students participate in a variety of workshops that are led by world-class clinicians, educators and researchers.
HOLD A HUMAN BRAIN
These workshops aren’t the dull “frog dissection” labs of Grade 11 biology class. For Harveen Sidiura, now a Grade 12 student at Fletcher’s Meadow Secondary School in Brampton, she was fascinated by her workshop in human anatomy when she attended Discovery Day in 2011. This hands‐on exploration used pre‐dissected cadavers to show students the structure of the human body and how it functions.
“The anatomy lab was the biggest thing because I actually got to see inside [the body]. That really inspired me. The best part was looking at the human brain,” said Ms. Sidiura. “I got a chance to hold the whole human brain in my hand, that was really cool.”
Her experience last year at the University of Waterloo’s Discovery Day also helped cement her intended career path. While she says she has wanted a career in medicine for some time now, the Discovery Day solidified her plan and helped to manage her fear of many years of intensive studying. Ms. Sidiura says she has encouraged many of her younger schoolmates to take part in these Discovery Days at the universities.
“I think it’s just a great experience and learning opportunity for Grade 11 students. It will really help them if they are confused as to whether they want to go into science or in business. I think this will strengthen their choice in science. It will definitely help with their decision making,” she said.
TD BANK GROUP SUPPORTS YOUNG SCHOLARS
This ability to help young students across all communities in Canada to see a career path in the health sciences and medicine is what prompted the TD Bank Group to partner with The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame and sponsor these Discovery Days across Canada.
For Ms. Sidiura and the thousands of other high school students who have interacted with medical and other health professionals in labs, hospitals and classrooms, the opportunity to discover the huge scope of careers in the health sciences field is eye-opening. Few students realize that Canada is a global leader in biomedical science, research and education until they attend a Discovery Day event. It is only then that they get a solid look at the impact that Canadians have in healthcare and how they can be part of it.
MORE THAN JUST DOCTORS AND NURSES
Dr. David Hammond is one such Canadian making a big impact on global health issues. As an Associate Professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, his research focuses on population-level interventions to reduce chronic disease. He works with governments around the world to help create those gruesome tobacco labels of cancerous mouths to discourage people from smoking or to create more effective nutritional labels to help combat obesity.
He is also the keynote speaker at the University of Waterloo’s upcoming Discovery Day on April 17, 2012 where he helps students see beyond the traditional concept of what a healthcare profession can mean. He finds talking about what he does while making it interesting and engaging to his young audience challenging yet very rewarding.
“I do it because [they are] the next generation of researchers and practitioners. More than anything, I would like to turn them on to the type of health research that we do,” says Dr. Hammond.
Currently Canada is facing a severe shortage of healthcare professionals. In 2010, 4.4 million Canadians, or 15% of the population 12 and older, reported not having a family doctor*. The Canadian Nurses Association has predicated a shortfall of 60,000 full-time registered nurses by 2022 if the shortage isn’t addressed soon. Yet only 37% of Canadian teens taking high school science courses are interested in pursuing science at the post secondary level according to a 2010 Angus Reid survey. Enticing students into these professions is critical, says Janet Tufts, Executive Director of The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. “When you put the whole day together – keynote lecture, two interactive workshops and a career panel – it adds up to a very influential experience with life-altering potential.”
Yet participating in Discovery Days is not simply about telling high school students about doctors and nurses, says Dr. Hammond. “The challenge is helping people to understand all the different types of interesting and fascinating health-related careers that are out there,” he acknowledges.
At the Discovery Day hosted by the University of Waterloo, students can participate in two of the 15 different workshops being offered. A couple of the options include a mock surgery where they will work in teams to extract fake tumors from a mock human chest cavity and a session where they will examine the science of concussions and help engineer a helmet that will allow mini gelatin brains to survive a massive impact.
Since The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame launched this innovative education program in 1997, more than 18,500 students and teachers from across Canada have benefited from these interactive learning days. To make them completely accessible, there is no cost associated for the student or the schools participating. This year, 12 universities are participating in the TD Discovery Days program.
*Statistics Canada, Canada Communities Health Survey, 2010