Is your family member contemplating a career in health care? Don’t miss out on Missive!

Missive volunteers participating in a fire drill evacuation exercise at Maimonides, as part of a training for staff. Two of the students pictured are relatives of CIUSSS staff. Allison, shown left, is the daughter of Susan Cliff, a social worker at Maimonides, while Benjamin is the son of Rabbi Michael Wolf, chaplain for both Maimonides and Jewish Eldercare.

Unique summer internship program recruiting participants

Does your team member wear a white lab coat? It may just be possible to trace the origin of their career in health care back to the summer when they wore a blue t-shirt—as a participant in the long-running Missive program, for students who are interested in pursuing a career in a health-related profession.

Missive logo

MISSIVE (Maimonides Intensive Summer Session for Individual Volunteer Experience) introduces students who are considering a career in health care to a range of disciplines through hands-on and educational training.  

“We’re embarking on a new adventure with our program this year,” says Roz Friend, Coordinator of Volunteer Services, Training and Development at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre. “For the summer of 2019, we’ll be expanding the program to all seven long-term care sites in the CIUSSS. Now that we belong to a network, more volunteering opportunities will be open for applicants than ever before.” Entering its 34th year, the program was previously based out of Maimonides and the Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Centre.

Many past participants who benefited from the experience have been family members of staff. That’s why Missive coordinators are urging CIUSSS employees to propose the program to anyone who might be interested in joining. To be eligible, candidates must have their high school degree and be enrolled in a CEGEP or University program and be prepared to commit to full days from Monday to Friday, for eight weeks.

When they enter the program, interns are paired up with another missive. For four days a week, they work together as members of a dynamic healthcare team at an LTC facility. Here, they interact with residents in two areas of interest selected from a dozen options, ranging from quality improvement to social services, from nursing to recreation.

The entire group is assembled each Wednesday, when volunteers join their peers at one dedicated site for a full day of training and networking. “The Wednesday sessions are designed to acquaint the interns with a wide range of health fields, to give them a broad view of the many possible career avenues they can pursue,” says Ms. Friend. Each week, guest speakers present the clinical aspects of their work, be it in rehabilitation, geriatrics, or speech-language pathology.

What’s more, they inform the students about the possibility of practicing in different settings. “Participants may not have realized that a pharmacist can work in a hospital, a retail store, or in research,” points out Ms. Friend. “They might also be unfamiliar with our non-clinical partners, so we’ll also bring in lecturers who explain the role of an ombudsman, for instance, or a medical ethicist.”

The program offers a full agenda, including personal development opportunities. “At university, they teach biology and anatomy, but our volunteers also learn the soft skills,” notes Ms. Friend. “Through workshops and of course through interaction with our residents and the multidisciplinary teams who provide their care, the students learn invaluable lessons in team building, in leadership, in career planning—it’s a very enriching program.”

Students who are interested in learning more about the program or who wish to apply are asked to contact Ms. Friend.

For volunteers, for SAPA staff and above all, for residents—Missive is a “win-win-win”

As a unit agent at Maimonides for 30 years, Jeannette Tordjman was already well acquainted with the geriatric population for whom the long-term care site is ‘home’. For her grandson, Matan, a Missive volunteer during the summer of 2017, the experience was new, and eye-opening.

“When I first arrived, I wasn’t used to interacting with older people, especially ones with dementia. I was given a lot of guidance by an occupational therapist, though, and within a week I felt comfortable,” reports Matan. So at ease, attests his grandmother, that he transformed in their presence. “He’s very reserved and quiet, but then one day I discovered him playing the piano and singing to entertain the residents, I couldn’t believe it!” Matan’s musical act was part of a show he had helped to organize through his placement in event-planning. “Sure, I did things that brought me out of my comfort zone, but it was for the residents, we all had fun!” he recalls.

Matan also enjoyed the experience of accompanying the residents to art therapy sessions. He remarked that the seniors he had kept company who had been quiet during mealtime were more animated once in the art room. “They became very expressive, they opened up, talking about their paintings and what inspired their art work. It was fascinating to see the transformation, how energized they were taking part in a creative activity.”

The Missive program also helped Melanie, a participant in 2015, gain a better understanding of the growing senior population she had encountered in her work as a pharmacy technician. “When I spoke with my first Alzheimer’s client, I had no idea how to handle the situation,” she recounted in a testimonial she wrote following her internship. “I didn’t understand why she seemed so confused and got very frustrated with me, insisting that had made mistakes. In the past 8 weeks, I learned how to communicate with seniors who were forgetful, or who had lost some of their hearing. As an aspiring doctor, I encountered many situations as a Missive that really opened my eyes and made me rethink my strategies.”

To learn about the particular needs and nature of your patient, client or resident is a crucial part of what it means to give care, says Brigitte Lavoie, a Risk Manager for SAPA who has supervised Missives for nearly a decade. “I train the students in risk management, teaching them to gather data and create reports for research and safety audits,” says Ms. Lavoie. Interns learn to search for items that are potentially hazardous to residents living in long-term care sites, from prescription creams, cleaning or hygiene products to electrical appliances. If they find any safety hazards, they alert staff, who take measures to protect residents. Missives are also given a behind-the-scenes perspective on the importance of charts and the dangers of medical errors.

“What is most rewarding for me, however, is to guide the interns in how to approach a patient,” says Ms. Lavoie. “Even if your role is to ensure the residents live in the safest possible environment, you must always remember that when you enter their room, you enter their home. That means you don’t barge in, you enter respectfully, you introduce yourself and explain the purpose of your visit.”

“You can see already the students who will continue in the field, who realize, is it for me, it’s not for me,” attests Ms. Lavoie. “To care for the frail, the vulnerable, it’s not for everybody. That human interaction underlies all we do in healthcare—it’s a vital lesson, and one that is best learned early on.”

An aspiring doctor, Alexandra appreciated the opportunity to shadow a geriatrician during her Missive internship. “The experience taught me first-hand about dealing with complex ethical dilemmas, which is a facet of health care that you only learn about theoretically during your studies,” she points out. “Until you spend time interacting one-on-one with residents on a daily basis, you don’t realize that providing care is about far more than fixing a medical problem. Something that seems small to you can be something big to someone else. Simply reaching out your hand to a resident can make a world of a difference to a person who feels afraid and alone. When I left the building for the day, the faces and the stories of the residents never left me.”

The companionship of the Missives is as much a gift to the residents, says Karen Knie-Cahana, a Social Worker who supervised two students who volunteered at the Maison Paternelle. “Our interns were energetic and filled with good ideas,” remarked Ms. Knie-Cahana. “They were eager and dynamic, whether engaging the residents in meaningful conversations or bringing them to the park. As we send off our delightful participants, we already look forward to next year’s Missives. It’s one of those gems of a program, truly a win-win-win.”

Ms. Friend agrees, noting that the spirited youths who take part in the program are a revitalizing presence for the residences. “They bring the outside in,” she says. For that reason, similar programs should be adopted by healthcare institutions throughout Quebec, adds Ms. Lavoie. “From an inter-generational perspective, it does wonders for residents, especially because many don’t have family members nearby. For them, it’s a visit, it fills a void.”

Bringing the program to all LTC sites within our network is a positive step in that direction, according to Joanne Laing, the CIUSSS Chief of Volunteer, Recreation and Pastoral Services. “The Missives are a tremendous support for our healthcare teams,” she notes, “and when your staff is happy, your residents are happy.”