Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Psychiatric Nursing Program partners with the Red Cross to bring virtual visits to seniors

Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s first year Psychiatric Nursing students brought conversation and virtual companionship, during a long and lonely pandemic, to seniors across Saskatchewan as part of the Red Cross Friendly Phone Program.

Participating in the Friendly Phone Program was a first for Sask Polytech’s psychiatric nursing students, who prior to the COVID-19 pandemic would have met with local seniors in-person to hone their communication skills and learn how to develop therapeutic relationships, said instructor Carol Hipfner.

“In December we were very concerned that the students wouldn’t be able to go into clinical,” Hipfner explained. “As it turned out, there were several (care homes) that we used in the past that decided that they did not want students there due to the pandemic, so it did cause a bit of a scramble.”

After an orientation with the Red Cross, 40 students were each matched with a senior who had signed up for a weekly call and it was not long before they were making connections over the phone and on Zoom.  

“My client liked narrating her past experiences and enjoyed it when someone was listening to her,” explained student Seidu Alhassan. “We never had enough time to complete our discussions … because she had much more to share. It made me realize that one of the most important things that seniors value, is having someone spend time with them and actively listen to their stories. The feeling of being heard can enhance their mental health.”

Positive feedback from students, like that from Alhassan, was not uncommon Hipfner said, noting that some of the students enjoyed the experience so much they plan to continue volunteering with the Friendly Phone Program.

Hipfner said the only challenge faced by the students when the clinical portion moved from in-person to online, was gaining the confidence to engage with the seniors in a more independent way than in-person visits.

These conversations are meant to be more therapeutic than a simple chat. From assessing memory issues to uncovering personal problems– there is a lot that can be learned.

“There are certain ways to communicate with an older adult, students need to be aware of their voice tone, eye contact and where they are seated,” Hipfner explained. “All of those things are really important especially as a psychiatric nurse – communication is vital, it’s a foundational skill.”

Although pivoting to this virtual platform was an unexpected obstacle of the pandemic, Hipfner says this platform for therapeutic counselling is quickly becoming the future.

“I think that will be a continuing trend in health,” she said. “In our program we had not participated in the Friendly Phone Program before and due to the pandemic, our students also experienced virtual experiential learning.”

While the pandemic has presented challenges, it has also provided new opportunities.

Published May 2021