From My Perspective

My job - Part I

As AU students, most of us are working towards a degree with the hope that we will find a new career, a job in a field that we enjoy, where our talents and abilities are utilized to the maximum. Many of us have experienced the daily grind of having to work at a job we hate just to survive. For those of us reaching the end of our undergraduate studies, the goal of employment that meets our new expectations finally feels within reach.

I’ve been reading want ads for ages, counting the days until I finally have that BA behind my name and can finally start working in some area of the psychology field. Recently I applied for a new job, and this week I start training. It’s not my ultimate goal, but it is one step closer, and I’d like to share some of my perspectives as I go into training for my new job at Capital Health Link – answering the new Addictions/Tobacco Cessation information line.

For those residing outside of Alberta, you may not be familiar with Capital Health Link (http://www.cha.ab.ca/healthsite/pk2524sh.asp), although the service exists in other areas. Link is based on a nurse telephone triage concept developed by Sheila Wheeler http://www.teletriage.com/. In Edmonton the service started up almost two years ago for the Capital Health Region, and soon expanded into other areas of Northern Alberta (Mistahia and Peace). By year-end Link is scheduled to cover all of Alberta, with regional centres in Edmonton and Calgary.

I had been working for Capital Health on a casual basis for almost a year and a half when Link entered the developmental stage, and I was invited to work on the initial team as clerical support. At the time I had just made the decision to go to university full time and could not accept the position, choosing to continue instead with casual data entry work. Several months later however, shortly after the launch of Link, I was again invited to apply for a position. This time I accepted the job – part time clerical support covering evenings and weekends. Much of my initial work involved entering protocols into the new computer system they were converting to, called “Sharp Focus.” I must confess I really had no idea what “triage” involved, nor what a “protocol” was. I soon learned.

Protocols go into great detail depending on the symptoms the caller is experiencing. Nurses perform triage (the allocation of services to a patient according to a system of priorities) by asking questions and then choosing the appropriate decision tree. For example, if the caller says, “I have stomach pains”, the nurse will then ask a series of questions to determine the location and severity of these pains. Based on the information the caller gives and what the protocol says, the nurse will advise the caller of one of several options, which can range from; “go to emergency immediately,” to “see a doctor within 24 hours,” or may just consist of helpful suggestions for home treatments. Entering the protocol information into the database was an education in itself – I learned more than I wanted to know about a host of ailments ranging from sunburn to heart attack to meningitis – I was itching for hours after typing up the lice & scabies protocols!!

Working at Link I’ve come to realize what a wonderful service it is. I remember one nurse telling me about a senior citizen who called late at night during a particularly busy time. This lady was on hold for about 20 minutes and the nurse was highly apologetic when she finally got to her. The lady reassured the nurse that it was no problem; said that she was lying in her warm bed at home waiting on the phone instead of going out in the cold and sitting in a hospital emergency department for hours – 20 minutes was no difficulty at all! Of course since that time Link has expanded (from 40 nurses to 120 in less than a year) and long waits on the phone are rare.

In practical terms, the service is designed to reduce unnecessary visits to the hospital emergency department and provide peace of mind to callers regarding their health and that of their loved ones. However, at times Link does even more. A few months ago Link nurses possibly saved the life of a young woman from Eastern Canada who was in Edmonton to attend a wedding. She was 30 weeks pregnant, and started to experience symptoms that included swelling and vision problems. In spite of this, she stood up for her friend at the wedding ceremony, then enroute to the reception stopped at a phone booth to call for advice. The Link nurse immediately recognized the symptoms, and insisted the young woman go to emergency where she was diagnosed with toxemia, a serious and potentially fatal complication. Shortly after arrival at hospital she gave birth to a premature but healthy daughter. You can read the story at: http://www.cha.ab.ca/healthsite/pk5413sh.asp?dyn=5414.

Several of the Link nurses are fellow AU students as well, and one nurse leader is an AU graduate, so we often sympathize regarding our studies. It takes a very special person to be a Link nurse, however, and learning at a distance provides excellent training. Interviews are intensive and rigorous, done both in person and through test phone calls. In addition to medical and people skills, nurses also need to have typing and computer abilities, something not usually required in a hospital or community environment. Training covers the better part of six weeks and nurses are preceptored until they feel confident enough to take their first call alone. As distance education students we understand the challenges of communicating in a non face-to-face environment, yet the Link nurses have to do this every day. They are required to be the “comforting voice” on the other end of the phone, and although they have a protocol to follow, they have to use common sense judgement at all times.

Link also incorporates several other health information services under its umbrella. Requests for immunization records, school health nurse referrals, prenatal classes, and the Healthy Beginnings program all operate from Capital Health Link. For the past year and a half I’ve provided clerical support for the Healthy Beginnings program. This program provides followup care for new mothers in the Capital Health region. I’ve found it extremely interesting learning about all the possible complications of childbirth and ways in which community health nurses support new mothers. The nurses have told me about different cultural aspects of birth and postnatal care, and I’ve incorporated many of these things into my coursework. For example I did a research project for SOSC366 on the relationship between breastfeeding behaviour and caesarian delivery, and a paper on culture and childbirth practices for ANTH499.

Now Link is expanding into another field – a collaboration with AADAC – the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission http://corp.aadac.com/. A few weeks ago I noticed the ad for a telephone operator for the new AADAC Link line. I spoke with my supervisor and asked what they were looking for. She said that although it is defined as a clerical position, the ideal would be someone with strong clerical and people skills who had some social work or psychology background. This sounded like me…so after some discussion with my family I decided to apply.

Next week: training starts for the new job

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students’ Union.

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