TWU Graduate Students invited as Expert Witnesses on Federal Government’s Study on Social Inclusion and Quality of Life for Canadian Seniors

#nursingknows is a popular hashtag for Canadian nurses who are speaking into public policy and healthcare matters.  Speaking with this voice of professional knowledge as the “eyes and ears of the healthcare system”, MSN students Andrea Dresselhuis and Melissa de Boer appeared as witnesses before HUMA – Canada’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on November 7th, 2017 in Ottawa.   Professor Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham travelled with Andrea and Melissa, along with fellow classmate, Melody Pan.

What were our main messages?  Our main messages focused on three issues related to social inclusion and quality of life for Canadian seniors:  housing; wrap-around, integrated community-based care; and quality palliative care (See submission here).

What was the experience like?  The journey to Ottawa started in Ottawa in May 2017, during a luncheon with MP Mark Warawa during the graduate week-long health policy residency.  Mr. Warawa told us about a study being undertaken by HUMA on Social Inclusion and Quality of Life for Canadian Seniors and suggested that a submission or policy brief be made by the TWU nursing group.  Seven students volunteered to take up his challenge as their final assignment for the health policy course.  Over the summer, these students (‘shout out’ to Gwen Williams in Brampton, Ashley da Costa in Kelowna, Barbara Hall in Vancouver, Paula Optland in Calgary, Melody Pan in Richmond, Melissa de Boer in Lethbridge, and Andrea Dresselhuis in New Westminster) worked diligently to identify which issues were most aligned with our nursing expertise and then reviewed grey and academic literatures to glean the latest evidence and promising practices.  With this knowledge in hand, an initial draft of 50 pages had to be condensed to a crisp 10 pages, complete with recommendations targeted to the federal level.

We were thrilled in late October to receive our invitation to appear before the Committee as expert witnesses.  This unleashed another flurry of consultation, as we prepared a less-than-7-minute presentation, with a handout translated into French (thanks, Raechel Healey-Chamberlain for your bilingual contributions!).

Once back in Ottawa, we polished the presentation and discussed what questions we might anticipate from the MPs.  We arrived at 151 Sparks Street, went through Security, and settled into the Meeting Room.  We greeted some of the MPs as they arrived (see Melissa and Andrea with MP Alice Wong from Richmond, and MP Mark Warawa from Langley) and introduced ourselves to the Committee Chair (MP Bryan May).  Melissa and Andrea were the first witnesses called upon, and presented a seamless, interesting presentation that had all the MPs listening carefully (as were TWU nursing faculty and fellow colleagues via live stream).  After presentations from four other organizations, a structured process of questions followed on a range of topics.  The discussion is animated during this time, and Melissa and Andrea did a wonderful job fielding questions about palliative care and home care. 

Nurses have a unique vantage point to the challenges faced by seniors and have a practical sense of what works and what does not.  Nurses see firsthand the health consequences of seniors not having access to the social determinants of health (such as housing, transportation, food security, and social inclusion).  Policy engagement can happen at multiple levels.  Appearing before Committee as expert witness represents a rare opportunity for point-of-care nurses, but one that Melissa and Andrea were well equipped for.  #nursingknows!

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