Skills assessment exam couldn’t happen without our volunteers

30 January 2012

HAST volunteers, Andrew Kennedy

First-year student, Andrew Kennedy, uses a tuning fork to test hearing acuity on Jean Orpwood, volunteer patient

Volunteers play a vital role in helping Bloomberg Nursing ensure our students enter the field employing safe and competent practices and using good relational skills. Each year we call on a dedicated group of alumni from the Faculty and throughout U of T to assist in a live, end-of-semester exam.

The Health Assessment Skills Test (HAST) is the final exam for first-year students who have completed the Introduction to the Practice of Nursing course. The HAST evaluates their health assessment skills through a demonstration assessment station and a written station. For the demonstration assessment, a volunteer patient displays a set of prearranged symptoms requiring one of the following assessments: respiratory, cardiovascular and peripheral vascular, neurological or abdominal. The students are given 12 minutes, during which they are observed by an examiner who scores their performances based on application of the health assessment technique, explanations to the client or examiner, and professionalism.

Bev Coburn, 5T4, is not only a graduate of the program but also a former lecturer at the School of Nursing, having taught first-year public health from 1959 to 1966. She’s also served as the president of the Senior Alumni Association and has been a volunteer since the beginning. Coburn led the way, rallying the more than willing alumni volunteers to lend their assistance during exams. “Volunteering is essential to the activities of the university,” says Coburn. She estimates 70 of the approximately 500 graduates that attend alumni events volunteer with the school. “They enjoy the students,” says Coburn, “and they have a lot of fun.”

Jean Cline agrees. She’s been a volunteer with the program for at least 10 years. “I enjoy it,” she says. “It keeps you up-to-date with what’s being learned,” she adds, amazed at the detail of the exam and the students. Cline has no intentions of ending her volunteer career, planning to support the school as long as she’s required.

HAST volunteer, Nolene Look

Nolene Look, first-year student, performs a respiratory assessment on
Kate Thomas, alumna and volunteer patient

A graduate of the English department and former teacher of the same subject, Maurice Cooke has been a consistent volunteer for eight years. “I wanted to give back,” he says. Cooke enjoys the variety volunteering provides, as well as “the remarkable young people” he encounters. He recounts one particularly joyful student: “If I had to be in a hospital and have someone looking after me, I’d love to have her,” says Cooke.

Though many of the participants are returning volunteers, some were taking part for the first time. Jean Orpwood is a first-time volunteer with the Faculty, but she was very much looking forward to being “a delightful patient.” An economic and political science alumnus, Orpwood hoped to learn something from the experience. “The secret to a good old age is being open to learning new things,” she says.

All the volunteers are members of the Senior Alumni Association. In addition to maintaining relationships with the student population, they like coming back and seeing familiar faces. Betty Canter, who has volunteered with the University since 1969, says she “likes belonging to a compatible group with whom you don’t have to feel awkward.” Cooke also enjoys seeing the group each year, as he’s become friends with some of the other Nursing volunteers.

As mentioned earlier, volunteers play a fundamental role in the success of our students and we are very appreciative of their time and assistance. If you’d like to volunteer with the Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, please contact the Senior Alumni Association at (416) 978-0544 or