Beyond clinical: offering care to the community

How one nursing student is making the most of experiential learning

Marrah Nicolas-Joseph (BNurs’23) always felt like giving back to the community was important – it’s a major reason why she decided to study nursing.

“Nurses play an essential role in the healthcare system,” explains the third-year Ingram School of Nursing student. “Not only do they support other professionals, but they also offer their patients vital face-to-face human contact”.

To understand the needs of the communities you serve, sometimes you need to look outside of the classroom.

That’s why, before donning her scrubs as a practicing nurse, Marrah sought out opportunities to better understand the realities of the people she would care for.

Find inspiration close to home

The Montreal native traces her inspiration for choosing nursing as a career back to her childhood, when she would visit her mother, a nurse, at work.

“I would go [to the hospital] during my mother’s afternoon breaks to spend some time with her,” she recalls. Playing with stethoscopes and other small instruments was a vivid memory for her.

What truly struck the McGillian during those visits was how her mom interacted so carefully with her patients. Marrah came to understand how vital nurses’ roles are, both in the medical field and, more broadly, in the community.

Making a positive impact

Marrah had the opportunity to experience this relationship firsthand during internships in her experiential learning program. But it was her participation in the Ashukin Program in 2022 that proved even more remarkable.

“Ashukin” – a Naskapi word meaning “bridge” – was launched in 2018 to bring McGill students and Indigenous communities together to form real, tangible connections and learn from one another.

Marrah’s team worked with the Wemotaci community, located in the Mauricie region of Quebec, to promote healthy lifestyle choices to Atikamekw students.

Working with the high school nurse, they developed a presentation around nutrition and physical fitness as well as romantic relationships. The team hoped to inspire students to become leaders within their community.

As part of the program, Marrah had the opportunity to visit and live with the community for three days. She was struck by how welcoming and friendly the community was – and appreciated how much the experience offered her in return.

“I wanted to learn about their perceptions of the healthcare system, which would give me a better idea of how to improve their experience,” she said. “Essentially, I wanted to understand their daily reality and confront my biases.”

Even more opportunities at McGill

Marrah’s drive to understand the realities of her patients led her to a collaborative research project over the summer in 2021.

The project, led by McGill’s Dr. Sylvie Lambert, was centered on information related to immunotherapy, a treatment that’s offered to patients diagnosed with cancer. The team evaluated the quality of information available on popular search engines, asking themselves: how useful is this for patients and families?

Marrah admits it was a challenging project to undertake with a full course load, but she gained valuable insight into what patients face when seeking information on their health conditions and treatments. More than this – she developed essential critical thinking skills, and a sold sense of her own knowledge and abilities.

“Working on this project taught me the importance of being really thorough in my work, of being organized, and of having the confidence necessary when working in a trial-and-error scenario.”

“I really love that McGill offers so many research opportunities for undergraduate students,” she says. “That’s something that’s pretty rare.”

Marrah’s efforts paid off. She received a $3,000 scholarship for her participation and will see her name on a research paper well before she gets her undergraduate diploma.

“This was an extremely rewarding opportunity,” she says.

Going beyond expectations

What makes Marrah’s experience at McGill even more impressive is that she chose to study in English despite coming from a Francophone background. As a nurse, being able to communicate confidently with your patients is critical. Many Francophone students choose to study at English universities and CEGEPs to improve their language skills.

Marrah in the Old Port of Montréal

For Marrah, studying at McGill opened a world of possibility: “I decided to study in English because I know that it’s one of the languages that’s spoken the most in the world, and I’ve always wanted to work abroad,” she says. “Graduating from McGill is like getting an internationally recognized passport.”

Although she felt comfortable working in English throughout her studies, Marrah points to the various resources offered at McGill to help French-speaking students.

“You have bilingual academic staff, you can submit your work in French, and you have classes your first year that help you with English,” she explains.

A bright future

With graduation approaching, Marrah is excited about what the future holds. After refining her English skills and learning more about her patients through community programs and research, she’s feeling ready for the next step in her journey.

“McGill is really the university that offers me many opportunities and great experiences as a student, and I am very proud to represent those who have guided me. I plan to continue working on my master's degree here.”

While she isn’t sure what the future holds for her, one thing is certain: with compassionate nurses like Marrah serving the community, our future will be a bit brighter.

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