College serves needs of Francophone community

When New Brunswick was facing an urgent shortage of sonographers, Collège Boréal agreed to reserve three spots in its sonography program for students from New Brunswick. The arrangement is one example of the collaboration that occurs through the Consortium National de Formation en Santé, a pan-Canadian group of 11 colleges and universities and six regional partners.

Consortium fills gaps in health sciences education

Collège Boréal’s suite of French-language health-care programs helps to ensure francophone patients across the country are served in their preferred language.

There are more than a dozen health sciences programs on offer at the Sudbury-based college, including programs for dental hygienists, physiotherapist assistants, medical radiation technologists, practical nurses and personal support workers. In some cases, such as the massage therapy program, Collège Boréal is the only French-language program of its kind in the province.

Demand for the graduates is high with a variety of positions available across the country once students complete their studies, said Paulette Bonin, director of health sciences at Collège Boréal.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why we can easily attract students to the health sciences,” Bonin said.

Under the province’s French Language Services Act, health-care facilities like hospitals and clinics are designated to serve patients in French, which means there’s always a need for more French-speaking health-care professionals.

The majority of students hail from Northern Ontario, specifically Sudbury and smaller communities like Kapuskasing and Hearst, but the programs are drawing more international students from countries like France and Morocco, where there are large French-speaking populations.

In many cases, students from Northern Ontario will return to their place of birth to complete their practicum, and often have a job waiting for them there once they graduate. Bonin estimates roughly 80 per cent of graduates return to their home communities for work.

“We send students all over the province,” Bonin said. “We try to make sure that we set up our students in an area where they think they might want to stay.”

Collège Boréal is a member of the Consortium national de formation en santé, a pan-Canadian group of 11 colleges and universities and six regional partners offering French-language education in various health-care disciplines.

Born out of a need to fill gaps in French-language health sciences education, the consortium allows participating schools to collaborate on developing programs that would be difficult for them to offer individually.

When New Brunswick was facing an urgent shortage of sonographers, for example, Collège Boréal agreed to reserve three spots in its sonography program for students from New Brunswick. That agreement has been in place for five years.

Bonin said it’s a more efficient and economical way to develop and offer new programming that the college wouldn’t be able to afford to offer on its own.

“For me, the beauty of the consortium is the ability to collaborate and to be able to train not only the francophone students in our province, but offer training to francophones who live in other provinces and don’t have access to all of the post-secondary education that they can get in larger provinces,” she said.

It’s not an exaggeration to say the ability to serve patients in French can actually be a matter of life and death. Research has shown that, when faced with a traumatic situation, even patients who are bilingual can have difficulty properly communicating their symptoms in a language other than their first language, Bonin said.

“If you’re in a situation and you’re with someone who is not capable of properly describing their symptoms in English, and they’re faced with someone who does not understand French, there’s a greater risk of error,” Bonin said. “So we teach our students that it’s important that you display that you are a francophone and to actively offer those services for those who feel the need to use them.”

Students are encouraged to wear a badge reading “Hello/Bonjour,” so the patient knows they can speak French with the care provider. Sometimes, all it takes is that simple gesture to help the patient feel more at ease, Bonin noted.

An evaluation of the students’ abilities to communicate and offer their patients services in French is built into the programing.

“We feel it is very important to teach our students to be able to actively offer their services in French,” Bonin said. “By doing that, we’re not only responding to the needs of our minority francophone communities outside of the province of Québec, but we’re also teaching our students to provide culturally sensitive health care.”

This September, Collège Boréal will add to its menu of programs with an interdisciplinary gerontology program, a part-time, graduate certificate program that offers flexible learning options for students.

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