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A Case Study on the Impact of WIL in Transforming an Organization

December 5, 2017 3:08 pm Published by Leave your thoughts


In the fall 2017 term, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton hired nearly 60 co-op students from across Canada to help launch a new digital infrastructure for patient care at the hospital. The cutting-edge, digital movement will transform patient care make St. Joe’s a fully electronic hospital, one of only eight in Canada with this level of technology today.

While that’s an incredible story in itself, what I find truly remarkable is the investment the hospital made in leveraging student talent to launch a mission-critical change in their digital infrastructure.

The model used by St. Joe’s is an apt reflection of the current state of work-integrated learning across Canada. The value that students bring to the workplace is increasingly being recognized as an essential tool in the progression and success of an organization.

Tara Coxon, chief information officer at St. Joe’s, is a strong proponent of the co-operative education model. A graduate from the University of Waterloo’s Science and Business program, and a former co-op student herself, she knew that bringing in a large student team would be an effective way to complete this major project. At a recognition event leading up to the launch, Coxon had a very clear message to the students: “We would not be here without you,” she said. “You are an integral part of our team. You are key.”

And that’s the attitude of employers in 2017. No longer does the term “intern” or “co-op student” conjure an image of a coffee-fetching assistant. Today’s employers are hiring for the true knowledge and expertise that students can bring into the workplace. For the St. Joe’s project, co-op students from multiple programs and various levels of experience were brought onto the team. They filled a variety of positions including technical readiness testing, change management, data validation and training hospital staff on the new software.

Bharath Sritharan, a second-year biochemistry student at Waterloo, worked in the operating room during live procedures, charting the digital process in real time as a training exercise for doctors and nurses. The challenges he faced in his role were very real. “I’ve seen some staff with a resistance to change, afraid the new system will be slower or compromise patient care,” said Sritharan. He says he loved the sense of accomplishment when those same doctors or nurses got excited about the new software after interacting with it.

Another Waterloo student, Maria Valencia, helped run a technical “dress rehearsal” at the hospital. Valencia, a second-year biomedical engineering student, tested more than 2,000 workstations. When a workstation didn’t pass, her team would make the required changes to ensure it was functioning and ready for the system launch date. As a member of the technical readiness team, her work was essential to the successful launch of the new system.

Work-integrated learning is more than just an opportunity for a student to simply engage in the world of work. It is an opportunity to enrich their learning with meaningful contributions that will shape their own career paths and extend innovation across the country. It took incredible courage by St. Joe’s to take this leap toward becoming a fully digital hospital. We are so proud that their vision included giving students across Canada the opportunity to make such an impact on this project. These contributions will change – and maybe even save – lives.

AUTHOR: Ross Johnston is the Executive Director of Co-operative Education at University of Waterloo. He also serves as Vice President of Global Networks for CEIA. 








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