High school students remove their Personal Protective Equipment at the end of a breakout session during the annual UHN Infection Control Training Workshop at Toronto General Hospital, which is held by the Infection Prevention and Control Department (IPAC). (Photo: UHN)

When high school students want to know about norovirus, how to make everyone at school sick and which chocolates can be used to simulate diarrhea, they turn to the experts in UHN's Infection Prevention and Control Department (IPAC) for help.

Earlier this week, more than 60 Grade 11 and 12 Toronto District School Board students, all enrolled in a Specialist High Skills Major program focusing on health and wellness with infection control as one of the requirements, participated in an Infection Control Training Workshop at Toronto General Hospital.

"Four years ago, I asked the IPAC department if they would consider speaking with a group of high school students about infection control," says Leeanne Bouteiller, Experiential Learning Educator, UHN-TDSB Partnership. "They went far above my expectations by creating an engaging and interactive learning session for students.

"Every year is a bit different as the IPAC staff generously volunteer their time to share their knowledge and expertise to students."

The feedback has been extremely positive each year. And, it's clear the workshop sparks an interest in infection control as the students participate in a variety of activities within the field during their day.

"It's a more diverse field in healthcare than people realize, and Infection Control works with so many different groups," says Connor Moffat, Infection Control Practitioner. "Workshops like this help people discover some of the different jobs and opportunities that exist in healthcare.

"There is a lot of value in making sure kids are aware of some of their options early on."

Group of high school students analyzing and identifying seven different types of "poop" samples made out of chocolate as part of a breakout session on the Bristol Stool Chart. (Photo: UHN)

The students learned about various topics in infection control, and were encouraged to ask questions of the presenters, who included nurses from the Toronto Western Hospital Tuberculosis Clinic and experts in global infection control.

The students also took part in a "Liberating Structures" exercise designed to actually get everyone at school sick. Students came up with various ways to make this happen from going to school sick and never washing their hands, to sneezing on everyone. They soon realized that many of the items on their list actually occur and that they could do a lot more to prevent the spread of disease.

It takes months of planning to make the workshop informative and fun.

"And it's all based on IPAC staff volunteer hours," says Anita Marques, Infection Control Specialist and event organizer. "We really put a lot into our presentations and breakout sessions to keep them fresh and relevant.

"Our goal is to encourage students to think about how they contribute to the spread of infectious diseases and what actions they can take to prevent the spread of infections."

New this year were interactive breakout sessions including "Escape the Outbreak!" a take on the popular escape room concept – and not far from reality. Set on a cruise ship suffering in the grips of a Norovirus outbreak, students must discover how infection control practitioners work to break the chain of transmission, contain and prevent the spread of Norovirus through investigation, using additional precautions and employing proper Personal Protective Equipment.

Other popular interactive breakout sessions included "#stooliscool" and an IPAC Super Quiz, which got students moving and thinking about common infection control myths and learning about stool documentation, complete with samples made from chocolate.

The session closed with a Q&A forum in which students asked UHN staff questions about different career options in healthcare and some of the various education and career paths they can take.

"This workshop closely aligns UHN's principles of patient safety, learning and engaging with the larger community," says AnnMarie Tyson, Director of Infection Prevention and Control Program & Medical Device Reprocessing Departments. "It's one of the more interactive education sessions we get to put together and helps us highlight everyone's role in Infection Control."

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