Golden light bathes the snow-covered mountain peaks that surround the valley of Whitehorse, the capital city of Yukon Territory. The air is calm, clear, and cold. There is a relaxed feeling to the city that provides a sense of openness. We notice a youthful, artistic energy when we stumble across in the Riverside Grocery – a corner store full of healthy delights, the Dirty Northern – a hipster sports bar with half price pizza on Mondays, and the Claim – a tiny, jam packed café with delicious soup. Bison burgers are on the menu.
The visiting facilitation team includes Adam (director and founder of VAST), Patty (VAST co-author), Jon (Halifax-based anesthesiologist), Stephen and Emma (Dalhousie anesthesia residents), Sara (VAST co-ordinator), and Julian (Prince George-based anesthesiologist). We are welcomed to the Whitehorse General Hospital by Kathleen (head of anesthesia in Whitehorse) and Sarah (WGH simulation coordinator). The hospital is friendly, bright and clean.
A small simulation centre has been opened and VAST is one of the initial offerings.
After setting up for the course and ensuring there was a solid plan for people, space, materials, and flow, we treat ourselves to one day of Yukon tourism before the course began. Emma had arranged a half-day of dogsledding at Muktuk Adventures followed by a visit to the Takini Hot Pools, naturally heated by thermal springs. This proved to be an excellent combination.
We were fortunate to have a clear, bright day for the adventure. Although it was minus 20 degrees Celsius, Muktuk Adventures provided us with seriously warm clothing so that we stayed comfortable and warm for the three-hour dogsledding experience. There are about 50 dogs, virtually all of whom live outside year-round in little houses with a bedding of straw. As we emerged to get the dog teams harnessed up, there was a great uproar of overly exuberant howling. Okay, who knew we had to actually steer and control the dogs ourselves? Thankfully, the guides from Muktuk Adventures gave us a guidance before, during, and after the experience. Soon we were off whooshing along the trails through the forest with crisp snow and a bright blue sky. This is no passive activity; one has to maneuver body weight, lean into corners, and help push the sled up hills. Indeed, we worked up a sweat. It was well and truly exhilarating!
The thermal pools were a welcome treat after the dog adventure. We soaked for two or three hours in the warm water, completely comfortable despite the cold air. There was an ethereal light, with steam arising from the pools and the low-angled sun casting long shadows. Emma won our team’s frozen hair contest, but then again Adam and Jon had no hope from the start.
Then it was back to work. The first two days were the VAST Facilitator Course for four senior nurses (clinicians and educators) and Emma (who had not attended VAST previously). It was a pleasure to see how quickly the team acquired skills in simulation facilitation and debriefing. It was particularly heartwarming to watch these trainee facilitators in action in the two-day VAST Course that followed. They capably ran and debriefed simulated scenario for a group of 14 nurses, general practice anesthetists, and surgeons under our supervision.
The course was enthusiastically received with people welcoming the opportunity to focus on non-technical skills amongst the same teams they work with regularly. They expressed greater understanding for the challenges their colleagues face daily. A highlight for our visiting team was being welcomed by Kathleen and Ken in their beautiful new home. The bison stew with local morel mushrooms and cranberries was sumptuous. It was a pleasure to visit this most wonderful part of Canada and to experience first-hand how VAST is relevant in so many settings.