York team creates first-of-its-kind Web site for Ontario nurses

Imagine that you are a Filipino nurse with 16 years experience working in Saudi Arabia and just about to qualify to work in Ontario. You don’t know the system, you don’t know what to expect, you wonder who to talk to.

That’s how Maria Esarza felt until she heard a panel of expert nurses answer questions at an e-mentoring event streamed live from a studio at York on a fledgling Web site called Ontario Nursing Connection.

A first of its kind for nurses in Ontario, the Web site offers visitors a wealth of information about the profession in Ontario and a chance to participate in live online e-mentoring sessions; complete learning modules and earn certificates in nursing leadership, mentorship and interprofessional practice; stay up to date on best practices guidelines; join online chats and discussion forums; and find or become mentors.

The Web site is a project of the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care led by York’s School of Nursing. Sue Coffey and Charles Anyinam (right) submitted a proposal last fall and got the nod from the ministry in January. They and a team of nursing professors had about eight weeks and $460,000 to launch the Web site by March 31. It is still being refined but already proving popular. In only three months, more than 260 have registered for access to the site. "And that’s just by word of mouth," says Anyinam.

"The biggest focus for us is creating an online virtual community," says Coffey.

When the ministry put out requests for proposals last fall, she saw an opportunity to help her students in the BSc Nursing program for internationally educated nurses. Anyinam was thinking along the same lines for his second-degree entry nursing students, and the two put their heads together to make the winning proposal.

Both programs are squeezed into 20-24 months, about half the time of the usual undergraduate program. "So there’s a heightened need for professional socialization," says Coffey. "Traditionally, that happens over a four-year span. When that adjustment period is shorter, it becomes paramount to offer transitional support."

"New graduates need to hit the ground running," says Coffey. "Mentorship and transitional support can make all the difference whether new graduates stay in the profession or exit early."

Coffey and Anyinam have hit the ground running on this project with nine nursing colleagues: Lesley Beagrie, Adeline Falk-Rafael, Gina Marasco, Mary Ellen Nicholson, Efrosini Papaconstantinou, Eva Peisachovich, Ruth Robbio, Deb Wood, Dawn Yankou.

York’s Computing & Network Services formed a team to help them build the Web site. Staff from the CNS Faculty Support Centre recorded interviews with six nurses, now viewable on the Web site. They lined up nurses in every field from surgical to psychiatric to be mentors and participate on the e-mentoring panels. They found willing partners in CARE Centre for Nurses, Trent/Fleming School of Nursing, Humber River Regional Hospital, York Region Public Health Department and Mount Sinai Hospital.

"It’s amazing," says Coffey, "as we start to show the Web site, how many offers of support that are coming to us."

Above: Jenny Lee, left, focuses a camera on the panel and Sarah Chun, seated in foreground, feeds e-mails to panel moderator as they come in to the Ontario Nursing Connection Web site, during an e-mentoring session for nurses streamed live July 11 from a TEL Building studio. Both are learning technology support staff with York’s Computing & Network Services Faculty Support Centre.

Though the Web site is geared to an Ontario audience, nurses across the country and abroad have discovered it. That became clear during the second e-mentoring session on July 11 when the moderator was not only fielding questions from the York studio audience but from people watching from British Columbia — and Cyprus! This is not surprising given that studio and participants were largely foreign-trained nursing students who have worked in Ghana, China, India, Grenada, Kuwait and other countries and still keep in touch with former colleagues.

The July 11 panel, consisting of nurses and nursing managers from Toronto-area hospitals, was peppered with questions and could easily have carried on well beyond the two hours scheduled, noted moderator Mary Ellen Nicholson, a York nursing professor. Students lined up at the mikes to ask: What questions can I expect to be asked in an interview? What questions should I ask at the end of an interview? What is the starting salary and does foreign experience count? What is the status of nurses in the medical hierarchy in Ontario? How can I communicate better with my patients when my accent is difficult to understand? How will my accent affect my chances to find a job? When is a good time to go back to school? What happens if I get job burnout?

"Your questions made us dig deep," said Nicholson as she signed off. "And the expertise of the panel was phenomenal." Such e-mentoring not only creates a sense of community among nurses but is very helpful.

Rubina Pope, who immigrated to Canada two years ago and has 10 years nursing experience in Grenada, said the panel was "really good" because it helps promote York’s nursing program for internationally educated nurses.

Left: Nursing students, from left, Lorella Cabalatungan, Rubina Pope and Maria Esarza

"I’ve encouraged my friends to apply," said the 37-year-old, who feels lucky to have been accepted into the program and can’t wait to get back into nursing. "I wanted to be a part of the session and to be a part of something to make people aware of it." She also learned a few things. "So now, I know what to do in the future. It was really, really helpful."

Esarza agreed. "As you know, we are new in Canada in the field of nursing and we don’t have any idea what is going on and with those tips from the panel it gives us good information to build on." At 43, the medical/surgical nurse from the Philippines with 16 years experience in Saudi Arabia is poised to enter the workforce. She also thinks the Ontario Nursing Connection Web site is "very, very good. Nurses from all over Canada will connect with each other. It’s good because we can share our ideas even though we work in different hospitals and don’t know each other."

The final word goes to Lorella Cabalatungan, 36, an operating room nurse trained in the Philippines who has worked five years in the Middle East. "It’s remarkable," she said about the Web site. "It connects us to the nursing world in Ontario and makes us aware of what’s going on." She found the panel session truly helpful and came away feeling buoyed. "There’s hope for us."

On July 25, Coffey has arranged a third question-and-answer session from 6-8pm. It will be Webcast live from a studio in the TEL Building, and later archived, like the previous panel sessions, on the Ontario Nursing Connection Web site for future viewing.

By Martha Tancock, York communications officer