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Hitting the funny bone: Deborah Larson on using humour and stories to bring nursing concepts to life

Deborah Larson has taught in the nursing department at UFV for 14 years. Included among her listed research interests are critical care, cardiology, and nursing assessments. She was also named “most likely to break out in a Michael Jackson performance in the middle of a lecture.”

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By Ekanki Chawla (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: June 3, 2015

Photo Credit Ekanki ChawlaProf Talk is The Cascade’s oral history series, featuring the people best qualified to talk about what UFV has been like over the course of its first few decades: its professors. Each week we’ll interview a professor from a different department, asking them what UFV was like before it was UFV, and how they expect things will continue to change here.

Deborah Larson is a nursing instructor at UFV who studied at University of Saskatchewan and earned her Master of Arts in leadership and training from Royal Roads University. She has been a professor here for nearly 14 years, and her teaching has focused on medical / surgical nursing concepts and psychomotor skills. Included among her listed research interests are critical care, cardiology, and nursing assessments. She was also named “most likely to break out in a Michael Jackson performance in the middle of a lecture” by the UFV Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) class of December 2014 Teachie Awards.

What brought you to UFV?

I saw an ad in the newspaper that said UFV was looking for faculty in the nursing program. Prior to that I was an educator for the health authority at the Royal Columbian Hospital for about 12 years.

Did you have to move to teach at UFV? What kind of a change was that?

I initially resided in Pitt Meadows because I was commuting to Royal Columbian. So I commuted out here for 10 of my years, and I only recently in the last three years have lived out in Chilliwack. I love Chilliwack. I mean, I love Pitt Meadows — it’s beautiful there as well. But, it’s so beautiful being out here. Being close to work really helps! The commute took a big chunk of the day.

How would you describe the culture, the feeling you got when you first started teaching at UFV?

We were on a small campus here at Chilliwack, so it was a smaller group of people. It was very welcoming and I was treated well as far as the processes of being involved.

In our nursing program, we work in the classroom but we also work in the clinical setting. My first clinical day with students was on September 11, 2001. I was driving to work when the September 11 incident happened. It was a very interesting first day in clinical because nobody was focused. Students, staff, and patients on the units were aware of this horrendous event that happened and so the focus was on that rather than what we were really there for. That was an interesting welcome! But, the next day was better as well as the days after that.

What kind of courses did you start out teaching? What was that like?

A variety of the nursing courses, in-classroom and lab. I taught psychomotor skills as well as in the clinical setting with students on the surgical board. It was very busy to get up and running with workload but it was very enjoyable because I love the students and I love helping people.

Does that differ at all from the courses you like to teach most now?

It’s very different for me right now because I don’t do clinical. I currently only teach classroom but I also coordinate the second year (of four) of the nursing program. In our program we have the co-ordinator, but each of the years has what’s called a “lead” position.

What kind of changes have you noticed while teaching at UFV?

This new facility is lovely to teach in. Most cases, we still run into capacity issues as classrooms are not big enough. It’s a nice facility but we’re already having troubles fitting people in. When I started here, everything was online. There was a progression of videos and teaching resources being more easily available for students online. In our teaching in our labs, our technology has come up a great deal because we have the ability for simulation now. We have simulation mannequins that can speak, per se, and make noises and have physical changes such as changes in pulses and breathing. That piece of technology has progressed a lot because we purchased those in the last few years for our new facilities here.

What kind of changes have you made in your teaching approaches or methods over time, or have you found one style that works?

Over the years, I’ve become wiser and better able to bring in my experiential knowledge because in the nursing education process the value I see is that there are so many things one can learn from books, so many things one can learn online — but you can’t replace experience. With my 35 years of nursing, I can bring the experiences I have into the classroom setting. The longer I am a nurse, the more I am able to grow into that professional whom people trust to take care of them.

I am also a big believer in a storytelling, case-study type of approach. It’s not always applicable to the content but, where possible, bringing in real situations, real people, and real life scenarios. I know that students learn and remember so much more when it’s an actual person and an actual event. So I enjoy storytelling situations and that kind of learning environment for students.

I’m also a big believer in humour. If I have the students’ attention and they’re interested then I think they’re going to learn more. I want the students to want to be there. If they want to be there then they’ll pay attention and actually learn. So, I try to bring a little humour and little entertainment along the way.

What kind of projects (research, pedagogy, course development) have you worked on at UFV?

A longitudinal research project that our department has just completed — it has taken us five years. We have the regular four-year nursing program but we also have the fast-track program which students can complete in less than four years. Prior to starting intake of the two separate cohorts, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how this might work best. We decided to do a research project following these students from separate cohorts until their graduation. That’s why it took four years plus an extra year — because we had to be sure, before we released any results, these students had graduated. So it went through the research ethics and we surveyed and interviewed these students all the way through the program. Basically, what we were asking them in a variety of ways was what their student experience was like. We wanted to prepare those two groups.

Part of the reason we wanted to do this was because the way that our program is set up for these fast-track students is unique in the world, according to the research. The literature showed no other program was doing it the way that we were, because most people that have this fast-track program require certain levels of either education or credentials or a certain level of marks above and beyond what their regular cohort would require, while our fast-track program does not.

Since we started the study in 2009, it was a tremendous amount of data-gathering and we found a lot of information. So right now we’re in the process of trying to correlate and analyze all of this data about the student experience, whether it’s how well they feel they learned or how their stress levels were, their success in the program, and various aspects. It’s been a really unique and interesting project. It’s given us some interesting results that we’re planning on sharing with the faculty and participants this fall.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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