Approximately two years ago, the Singapore Health Promotions Board introduced Student Health Advisors (SHAs) into their secondary schools. To ensure these nurses were equipped to manage adolescent health concerns in an educational setting, The Hospital for Sick Children partnered with Singapore’s KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the Health Promotions Board to provide a five-day training program on adolescent health. HSC NP and Bloomberg Nursing lecturer Cathy Maser, MN 0T7, travelled to Singapore in November 2011 to serve as a guest teacher.
“It was a great opportunity to build a curriculum based on a needs assessment,” says Maser. “I was able to tailor the course and use the skills I’ve gained as an educator at the Bloomberg Faculty to demonstrate the best approaches to being an effective SHA.”
Each day, Maser taught an intensive, full-day class of 19 to 23 students. Some of the learners were already SHAs, while others were school nurses requiring additional education on adolescent health. The course was paid for by the Board and offered during a school break to encourage maximum attendance.
The main roles of an SHA are education and counselling. Since high school students do not regularly access health care, the SHAs presence in secondary schools was deemed necessary to assist adolescents with a variety of issues. The main foci of support have been smoking cessation and obesity; but attention is also directed towards mental health, learning disabilities and chronic illness.
Cultural differences presented some challenges for Maser, especially in regards to addressing teen sexuality. SHAs are permitted to teach students about “healthy sexuality,” but cannot speak directly about safe sex and contraception. This is a significant contrast to Maser’s practice, in which she has the capacity to not only counsel her patients about sex but distribute condoms and prescribe contraception as well. Nonetheless, “Teens are the same everywhere,” says Maser. “It’s just the context that’s different.”
Maser has been a nurse practitioner at SickKids’ Division of Adolescent Medicine for nearly five years and is used to having open dialogues with no subject taboo. “It helped me realize how easy it is to practise in Canada,” says Maser. While she couldn’t prescribe the same frankness to her students in Singapore, Maser did reinforce the importance of confidentiality – a luxury difficult to support in school settings.
Maser concluded her visit with a keynote speech to Singapore’s Health Promotions Board about the best approach to assessing and communicating with adolescents with a focus on health. While SHAs are not currently a routine presence in Canadian secondary schools, Maser sees a need for a similar role here and hopes this will change.
The KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital is a regional leader in obstetrics, gynaecology, paediatrics and neonatology. As an academic healthcare institution, KKH believes world-class clinical training and research are imperative in raising the standard of care.