St. Michael’s Hospital does it again

St. Michael’s Hospital is a trailblazer when it comes to integrating skilled immigrants. The hospital was the first to host immigrant interns through Career Edge Organization’s Career Bridge program and to develop mentoring for newcomers through St. Michael’s Making Connections: Newcomer Volunteer Program. Now they’re the first hospital to fuse mentoring with volunteering in partnership with TRIEC’s Mentoring Partnership program.

The hospital has a tradition of hosting volunteers and many are internationally trained healthcare professionals, but immigrants want Canadian experience in their field and typically volunteer opportunities may not be as closely related. One-on-one mentorship is helpful in gaining industry insight, but it cannot deliver hands-on experience in a hospital environment.

So, the hospital tried something new, something out of the box: The Special Project Volunteer Role for Newcomers.

Sarah Grant-Alvarado, specialist, internationally educated professionals, asked hospital departments to flag their interest in a mentee volunteer and map out what the non-clinical placement would entail. The Mentoring Partnership supported the recruitment of the immigrant volunteers, while the hospital provided a mentor. The key: A department member needed to commit to being the lead mentor and spend one of the 10 weekly volunteer hours, working one-on-one with the mentee over three months.

Director of Laboratory Medicine, Marion Dias was quick to volunteer herself as a mentor and carve out a placement for a mentee in her department. “Our department has consistently hosted volunteers, so it was intuitive for us to bring on an immigrant mentee,” says Marion. “I personally have benefited from mentoring, so I know the difference it can make in someone’s career and wanted to help a newcomer who has the experience and just needs Canadian context.”

While some organizations are hesitant about the amount of work involved with supervising a volunteer, Marion is adamant that there should be no hesitation. “We’re talking about a mature individual,” says Marion. “Internationally trained healthcare professionals are driven to get back into labour market. They are committed to improving their skill level and demonstrating what they are capable of. They are much more independent.”

In September 2010 St. Michael’s Hospital brought its first two volunteer mentees on board in laboratory administration, as well as leadership and organizational development. Neil Fernandopulle was paired with Marion and placed in her department of laboratory medicine.

With a PhD in molecular biology from Sri Lanka, post doctoral research experience from Stanford and eight years as a DNA scientist, Neil boasts impressive credentials. Marion (and June Watkins) supported Neil with job search tips and feedback on the cultural nuances of the lab, while supervising his work at the hospital.

Neil immediately took to his tasks of analyzing data, conducting a study on phlebotomy and contributing to working committees. He quickly proved himself and became the lead on an RFP for the department.

“I felt at home right away,” says Neil. “A lab is a lab, but I lacked Canadian experience and this opportunity was just what I needed to prove myself.” Neil has since been hired by St. Micheal’s Hospital as the operations leader in the department of laboratory medicine.

The hospital has created volunteer placements for four mentees and hopes to bring another six on board in fall 2011.