CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


No fat paycheques

By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun

It took a kidnapping at gunpoint to persuade nurse Lori-Anne Barre to leave Cambodia and return to Canada with her French husband and their two children.

Now safely working in Brantford and Burlington, and the mother of two more children, Barre admits it is concern for her kids that keeps her at home, or else she and her husband would be toiling once more in the underdeveloped world.

Unique program
Cheryl Sams, International Health Service co-ordinator at Seneca, says students do 90 per cent of their work through distance education

She began her career in 1981 at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, has worked in Uganda and Malaysia as well as Cambodia, and is a graduate of Seneca College's unique International Health Service certificate program.

Cheryl Sams, program co-ordinator at Seneca, says the program has been running for at least 10 years and is one of just a few such courses in North America.

The program has two streams, says Sams. The first is for nurses and other regulated health professionals, while the second stream is open to those trained in non-medical disciplines such as engineering and social services.

Students do 90 per cent of their work through distance education, says Sams. The other 10 per cent is completed in class at Seneca and there's a 150-hour field placement as well. The program offers continuous enrolment, she explains, and is flexible and fluid to accommodate students' schedules. They have three years to complete the course. Tuition is about $2,500, and the students range in age from a typical recent graduate to someone in their 40s or 50s. About two thirds of all students are women.

Both streams study some subjects in common, Sams points out. One of them is environmental issues and applied nutrition. Separately, the medical stream students would study maternal and child health, for example, and the non-medically trained, again, as an example, would study an introduction to human biology and pharmacology.

"I've been very impressed with the type of students we've been attracting," says Sams, a registered nurse herself. "I'd say most of their motivation (for taking the course) is their desire to help people."

Help people they do. Graduates of the course can be found in some of the most desperate places on earth. Angie Kerfoot will soon be one of them.

Doctors Without Borders

A registered nurse who has already worked in Australia and in the Queen Charlotte Islands off the B.C. coast, Kerfoot is close to graduating from Seneca and wants to reapply to Doctors Without Borders after her first application was rejected with the advice that she take the college course. Her interests are in Africa and South America, and she'd like to do her placement in the Yukon.

Kerfoot, who started out in Russell, Ont., admits to being adventuresome and she likes travelling, but she also says she's interested in what's happening in the world and in issues that affect people here and abroad. Besides, adds Kerfoot, she gets no particular satisfaction from money.

That is, perhaps, just as well. Nurses and others who go work in the developing world shouldn't expect fat paycheques or clean and comfy living.
  • 90 per cent of Seneca's International Health Service program is taught online.
  • Enrolment is continuous and students have three years to complete the program.
  • A 150-hour placement overseas or in a remote part of Canada is required to graduate.
  • Medical stream applicants must be trained in a regulated health profession.
  • The age range of students runs from the early 20s to the 40s and 50s.

  • Sams says there's always a demand for her graduates, but how -- or if -- they are paid varies widely. Sometimes the aid organization pays them, she explains, and sometimes volunteers have to support themselves. Still others use accumulated paid vacation time to underwrite their stints abroad.

    Clearly, working in the trenches in Sudan or Haiti or El Salvador or Bosnia isn't for everyone. But for those who are pulled towards the least lucky members of the human family the rewards and the difference they can make are substantial.

    "There's so much need," Barre says. "I wondered if a young Canadian nurse could make a difference. I received just so much when I realized what my efforts had accomplished."

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