While earning a master of science degree in occupational therapy at McMaster University, Paige Lerit spent a few months working a couple of eight-hour weekly shifts at Hamilton General Hospital, a Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) facility. As an occupational therapist clinical extern (working student), she found her calling in the cardiology and vascular surgery unit, where she helped provide care for patients with various serious conditions, including several amputees.
HHS is a community of 15,000 staff, physicians, researchers and volunteers serving southwestern Ontario residents. It provides specialized, advanced care and is a world-renowned hospital for health-care research. “Since my first day, the occupational therapists, physiotherapists and nurses I worked with were amazing supports who felt more like family than colleagues,” says Lerit.
Occupational therapists play an important role in helping people participate in meaningful activities in their daily lives, such as getting dressed or going for a walk. When Lerit’s grandmother fell a few years ago, an occupational therapist visited her at home to help improve her mobility and independence. That opened Lerit’s eyes to the possibilities of the profession.
“When I worked at HHS, I saw how a simple activity could bring a smile to someone’s face or fill laughter within the room, and those experiences really resonated with me,” says Lerit. “I’m grateful to HHS for helping me determine what scope of practice I want to pursue after graduation, which is adult rehabilitation.”
Setting up the next generation for success
President and CEO Rob MacIsaac says clinical extern programs are designed to bring in young people to HHS who are still learning about the careers they’re considering so they can gain exposure and acquire the skills they’ll need for them.
“We’re helping set them up for success by giving them good experiences and training them to be the next generation of healthcare workers,” he says. “The work can be daunting because we treat critically ill patients, so we really understand that our young employees need to be mentored and supported.”
Hamilton Health Sciences provides comprehensive orientation, training and ongoing mentorship for the thousands of young people who choose to join the organization each year.
Massive investments in technology and equipment
In the last year, HHS has made massive investments in technology and equipment to enhance experiences for the health-care teams and their patients, moving to a state-of-the-art paperless health information system called Epic. This initiative represents a commitment to quality care for patients, and it helps the health professionals to be able to spend more time at the bedside with patients and less time on administrative tasks, as well as reducing errors.
Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives is also a priority. “We can’t fulfil our mission of ‘best care for all’ unless all of our staff feel valued and respected,” says MacIsaac. “We want a culture where everyone feels like they belong.”
Providing flexibility and support
While Lerit worked at HHS, clinical extern co-ordinators held weekly in-person check-ins with her and encouraged her to text them anytime if she had questions or needed support. She appreciated that, as well as being given the flexibility to choose her hours based on her school schedule. “It was a really positive environment, and the other students on the floor were so sweet,” she says.
In August 2022, Lerit was part of the occupational therapy program’s orientation committee, where she talked to other young people about the benefits of the externship. “There are so many different areas you can work in,” she says. “You could be put somewhere you don’t know much about and absolutely love it, which is what happened to me.”
First published in 2002, Canada’s Top Employers for Young People is an editorial competition organized by the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project. This special designation recognizes the employers that offer the nation’s best workplaces and programs for young people just starting their careers. The employers on this list are Canada’s leaders in attracting and retaining younger employees to their organizations.