Miranda Babbitt

McMaster’s School of Nursing has helped to set the path towards significant developmental aid for Hamilton youth, but this initiative is at risk of losing funding by the New Year.

The program, called Primary Care for At-Risk Youth, has been providing nursing services in the local high schools of Hamilton. Once a week, a nurse practitioner along with several third-year Nursing students, offer their services for half a day at Sir John A. MacDonald and Cathedral Secondary School.

The results of such a program have been clear, with as many as 15 students seeking attention every hour. Larissa Glover, a third-year McMaster Nursing student involved with this initiative, has noted that the numbers are set to increase, “with more and more students learning about the centre.”

At Sir John A. MacDonald, one third of the student population is without family doctors, and 50 per cent of the students do not speak English as their first language.

Dyanne Semogas, an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing and a project leader, stated, “ESL significantly influences access to healthcare, and the Hamilton Center for Newcomer Health, [a joint initiator of the program], is one of those places that sprung up with a grass roots approach to addressing gaps to health services for newcomers.”

The Primary Care for At-Risk Youth initiative attempts to forge bridges between immigrant students and healthcare resources within their own community. Semogas explained that in many families stricken by poverty, some students are still unable to fully benefit from their services if the link between their help and overall community resources remains vulnerable.

Because nutritious food is often unavailable in low-income communities, if students are prescribed antibiotics that need to be taken with food, they may take it with unhealthy food. As a result, the program can also provide supplementary nutritional resources that will benefit the students beyond their immediate concern.

The need for readily available access to healthcare within inner-city high schools is pressing, and this is precisely what drove McMaster’s School of Nursing and local Hamilton school boards to begin the talking about how to build a program that addresses youth health.

Semogas previously stated that, “Studies have shown that youth having access to health care in schools are more likely to stay in school.”

The benefits of the initiative extend beyond the scope of the high school students to the very students behind the desk – McMaster nursing students are able to gain valuable experience towards their future practice. “Any place where you can interact with the population is really beneficial,” says Glover.

First-year Nursing student Emma Carscadden re-iterated the program’s importance.

“In the past there were nurses in most schools, and it’s a shame that nurses have been taken out of these important roles. I hope that this initiative will be successful, as nurses have a vital role in promoting healthy lifestyles and choices to children who need it.”

Despite the program’s progress and its considerable role in providing youth health services, funding is set to end in December. Semogas and Glover remained hopeful about the potential fundraising opportunity offered through the Aviva Community Fund, which contributes $1 million to Canadian projects that enable positive change.

With several qualifying rounds, the Primary Care for At-Risk Youth initiative has made it to the semi-finals. However, the future still remains tentative. “Some programs have crazy numbers of votes, up in the thousands, and they may outbid us,” said Glover, “but I am really, really hopeful for it.”


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