Strike Authorization Vote Called (and One More Nursing Facilitator Reaction)

Welcome back, sports fans! 

Well, judging from the increased number of page-views over the last couple of days, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ve already heard that the Union’s bargaining team has requested that the OLRB conduct a Strike Authorization Vote among the Union membership.

No word yet on when that vote might be conducted (although it was requested for Sept. 6).  But you can get all the details on the bargaining team’s official announcement bulletin (which features an impressively fulsome description of the conciliation process, to boot). 

That bulletin also includes a breakdown of some of the major issues at stake in negotiations, which I’ll try to look at in some detail (and/or glibness), in future posts.

Today, though, I wanted to wrap-up some thoughts on what I believe to be the most important issue currently on the bargaining table — the introduction of a new “Clinical Facilitator” job category, that would radically restructure the instruction in programs that feature on-site, clinical, or practicum instruction.  It would take a significant amount of teaching away from professors, and assign it to facilitators who lack job security, overtime, benefits, or an hourly rate that compares to faculty wages.

I communicated my initial impressions of the job category here and here, so instead, I’ll turn the attention to an e-mail that I received from a Nursing professor in a Southwest Ontario college: 

I read this news of a proposed Nursing Clinical Facilitator with great trepidation and angst. It seems as if we have seen this before. I think the last time they were called “technicians”. Some colleges tried this in the early 00′s but quickly found this ineffective and problematic.

I agree with the comments that a very large disconnect will occur between classroom and theory in nursing. In addition, the College of Nurses of Ontario has already discussed the possibility of converting those registered nurses who do not “practice” nursing any longer into a special category that will strip these nurses of their privilege to return to clinical practice without a refresher program. This fact alone has some nurse educators, like myself, questioning whether they will remain in teaching if this occurs. I value my clinical expertise too much to throw it away to teach exclusively in a classroom. Clinical is what I enjoy, and I can make the connections between theory and practice for my students.

Clinical teaching is exhausting and carries a very high level of responsibility: Not only do you have the eight students to monitor, but also the eight to sixteen patients that the students are assigned to provide care for. In addition,before clinical, you have to spend 3 to 6 hours of researching the patients’ condition, then there is the double-checking of skills, medications and documentation before you leave the clinical area. Once you get home, there are anecdotal notes to write on each student’s progress, and the marking of clinical worksheets and assignments.

If the students do an 8 hour shift. You are there early and late, making it a 9-10 hour day for the teacher. In addition, the marking etc. is another 8-10 hours per week in a degree program. No one in their right mind would do all that for an hourly rate that is less than what they make at the hospital, where there is no preparation or homework to take care of, outside the hours of your shift.

The simple fact of the matter is that when people do not feel adequately compensated for their work, they put less effort into it. This will result in a significant decrease in the quality of clinical experience that nursing students receive. This translates into less competent nurses looking after you and your loved ones. Do you really want this for your health care system?

I’m struck by one of the points that this contributor started off with — it seems to be one that I hear over and over again, to do with the problems that come when the colleges try to disconnect of theory and practice.  In short, the introduction of Facilitator positions would almost enshrine that disconnect, since a reduced number of professors would be left to teaching “theory” in the classrooms, while a substantial number of (worse paid) facilitators would be teaching the “practice”, on site.

Now, I tend to focus on practical arguments over principled ones, so my first reaction to this division of labour was that it would probably have a negative impact on students, who currently benefit from the fact that the people who teach them in the classroom are often the same people who supervise them, on-site.  (In fact, I’ve heard both faculty and Chairs of programs with on-site practicums make these very claims.)

And yes, I think that it would disrupt the educational process to disjoin theory and practice in the way that the College management’s bargaining team proposes to do.  But the more I think about it, the more I’m pushed away from the simple question of practical effectiveness, and towards a more abstract philosophical principle:

Ontario Colleges pride themselves on providing practical education.  The vast majority of College programs are designed precisely to combine theory and practice. The effort to divorce the two by creating two separate job categories to administer the instruction of each represents a disturbing abnegation of the very mandate of Ontario College education.

As I’ve said before — and as this correspondent reiterates — our work is important because the work of our graduates is important.  Nursing faculty are important because nurses are important.  And nurses are important because patients are important

And I think that neither professors nor students nor patients nor colleges are well-served by the effort to blithely remove professors from the clinical setting.  I don’t think that there’s a Teaching hospital on earth that would take such steps where the instruction of future doctors were concerned.  And I think that the onus is on the Colleges — and perhaps the province — to provide an educational and professional justification for what must be understood as a radical change in the instruction of future nurses.

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