Thompson Rivers University

Raising a paddle for health-care education

February 25, 2020

Evan Klassen, Managing Director of Western Canada Theatre, and Margaret Chrumka, Executive Director of the Kamloops Art Gallery, at the 2020 TRU Foundation Gala.

Health-care education is getting more lifelike at TRU with the purchase of a new mannequin that can simulate the behaviour of a sick infant.

The TRU Foundation dedicated its 2020 Gala to the cause, raising $130,000 to buy a high-fidelity infant mannequin for nursing and respiratory therapy programs. Donors raised their paddles to give between $50 and $7,500 per bid, while the TB Vets Charitable Foundation donated $20,000.

The funds contributed to TRU’s Limitless campaign to raise $50 million by the end of the year as the university celebrates its 50th anniversary. So far, $43 million has been raised to date.

“I had no idea the community would support us that much,” said Wendy McKenzie, simulation co-ordinator and faculty member in the School of Nursing.

“It felt really good because it meant we got the message out that this is critical for students. We see this as a crisis, and we’d like to have the support of the community to help us overcome it.”

Students have few opportunities to work with critically ill child patients in Kamloops. Because of medical advancements, patients are managed at home and, if their conditions become serious, they are transferred to hospitals on the coast, McKenzie said. This has prompted a need for more expensive training equipment at TRU to simulate situations students aren’t exposed to during their clinical training.

“The real world is ever changing. They can give you the basic skills in your program, but to really practice on the floor you have to think and act quickly,” said Kalen Hutton, a student in the health-care assistant program currently enrolled in a practicum.

“I’m definitely learning to think as I go,” he said.


This September, TRU’s Nursing and Population Health Building will open a whole new learning environment for students, including patient simulation labs where future nurses will work will high-fidelity mannequins.

These mannequin can simulate complex conditions and respond to interventions incredibly realistically. Some have cameras in their eyes. Some can even talk. Sick children behave differently than adults, however, and instructors have been using dolls to teach about infants.

“These are expensive pieces of equipment,” McKenzie said. “The more realistic we can make it, the more prepared they are when they see it in practice. We can stop, redirect and try again. Students just get better and better and better.”

Community shows overwhelming support

Fundraising at the TRU Foundation Gala for the equipment far exceeded its $100,000 goal.

The TB Vets Charitable Foundation and its board of directors contributed TRU $20,000 toward the infant mannequin because they understand its enormous value.

“I was very moved by the experience at the TRU Gala as I could see how important this grant was,” said Kandys Merola, executive director of the TB Vets Charitable Foundation. “Many excited students and staff came to thank me.”

Dean of Science Tom Dickinson said the respiratory therapy and nursing programs have collaborated for several years to develop and use simulation to teach students about the importance of inter-professional co-operation in providing quality health care.

“It was heartwarming to see the community come together to support Thompson Rivers University,” said Rani Srivastava, dean of the School of Nursing. “I am filled with gratitude that so many people raised their paddle to support us.”

To learn more about TRU’s Limitless campaign, visit

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