Rural Health Link is a joint venture of the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Horizon School Division, designed to expose high school students to possible professional and employment avenues in health care. Hosted by St. Peter’s College in Muenster, over 100 students from across the division gathered to listen, learn and participate in hands-on demonstrations. The three year absence of the in-person event has been felt and all the participants were excited to see students back in the fold and interested in the potential of becoming health care providers through a rural lens. 

The day kicked off with keynote speaker Brianne Ronvel, clinical services manager at Humboldt District Hospital. Ronvel talked about her own career path through nursing and gradually working toward certification for training nurses in the clinical setting. She expressed how lucky she felt to have worked with nurses in the first clinical experiences through to those completing their studies in their fourth year and preparing for the final push to take their places in the professional workforce. One of the key messages was the need for continual learning. 

The balance of the day was broken into streams of professional interests including nursing, therapies, lab and imaging, and mental health and addictions services. Students had the ability to participate in one stream of presentations in the morning and another in the afternoon. Students moved throughout St. Peter’s College getting perspectives and coaching from health care practitioners who work in the east central area. A professional panel was set up for a presentation and questions during the noon hour. Management, cooking, medical lab technology and nurse practitioning were all represented.

“It’s nice that we’re finally able to do an in-person event,” affirmed Cody Howell, manager for workforce planning and employment strategies for the SHA. “The importance of this event is really just about connecting youth with health care opportunities. I think one of the greatest things this event does is that it’s not just a presentation - it’s also hands-on interactive learning for individuals that are interested in health care.”

One of the strengths is that the day exposes high school students to many opportunities that may be a bit obscure compared to more high profile options, says Howell.

“Oftentimes, the first thing you think of when you say health care, you think of nursing, you think of medicine or doctors. But there’s allied health professionals, there’s therapies, social workers, mental health and addictions, as well as non-traditional health care roles such as cook and nutrition classifications that are absolutely vital in health.”

The SHA cooperates with agencies in Regina and Saskatoon to hold health link events, but Howell acknowledges the special nature of the day held at St. Peter’s College given that its targets and focus are on rural health and providers.  

“We know that the situation is different in rural areas. There are classifications that are harder to recruit, so this event is really about exposing students to rural health care and getting them excited about what that means.”

Horizon career and graduation coaches like Brent Loehr work with SHA team members behind the scenes coordinating the planning with schools. Loehr and his colleagues have been supporters since the initial years of Rural Health Link, and they understand its importance in guiding students to suitable career choices. 

“I think Health Link is the best career event I’ve ever been involved in,” Loehr says, “Especially on a single topic like Health Care. To have the exposure to nursing, therapies, medical diagnostics and mental health care all in one spot with the professionals in the Health Authority is just amazing. The fact that there’s only two in the province and one out here, it’s an honour to be part of that. 

Loehr says that the registration of 116 participants this year comes close to matching their best year for attendance.