A perfect fit: Thompson Rivers student-athletes excelling in their uniforms and scrubs

  Posted on: October 24, 2018

WolfPack soccer players Kelsey Thorkelsson (left) and Robin Price (right) are in the nursing program. (Larry Read photo)

By Matthew Vocino
U SPORTS journalism intern

Three and a half hours northeast of Vancouver, where the North and South Thompson Rivers meet, lies the city of Kamloops. A city, known for being a travel hub and for Thompson Rivers University, a post-secondary school some of the hardest working and busiest U SPORTS student-athletes call home.

What separates these student-athletes from the rest, however, is that while they are excelling on the court, they are also succeeding in one of the most intense programs – nursing.

Like many promising high-school student-athletes, Michelle Bos, a fifth-year guard and one of eight WolfPack student nurses this year, was being recruited by many programs, but her desire to pursue nursing made this process more challenging.

“As soon as I mentioned that I would be in nursing, a lot of them actually said that it would not be possible and that I have would have to look at a different degree,” says Bos. “Or they said that it had never been done before and they didn’t know if it would work.”

Growing up in Vancouver, Bos knew she wanted to be a nurse after hearing interesting stories from her mother, an emergency room nurse at Vancouver General Hospital, and so nothing was going to change her mind.

Thankfully after speaking with veteran head coach Scott Reeves, it was apparent that Thompson Rivers was the perfect fit.

“We’re about shaping young people and preparing them for the rest of their lives. It’s not just about one game, or 10 games or 20 games,” says Reeves when explaining what’s most important to him. “If I saw a nice basketball player that I thought could really contribute, help our team win games, but we couldn’t offer the academic program for them, I wouldn’t try to persuade them.”

Over the last number of years, Thompson Rivers University, which prides itself on empowering students to achieve their goals and on creating flexible learning options for students, has seen its nursing and athletics programs, most commonly their basketball and soccer clubs, form a relationship to allow student-athletes like Bos, the ability to pursue both.

A relationship that has blossomed and made TRU a nursing student-athlete hotbed, as both departments are looking for similar people, according to Reeves.

“l asked her what she looks for in nurse,” says Reeves, as he recounts a conversation he had in 2013 with Dr. Donna Murnaghan, the Dean of Nursing. “When she was explaining to me that they (nurses) have to be people who are committed, that understand time management, that are physically fit, that can put in long hours and can handle a team environment and have patience, what she was describing was a student-athlete.”

Although both departments help where they can, whether it be the nursing department ensuring students are placed in clinical hours that won’t conflict with their travel and game schedules, or coaches organizing extra film sessions with players, it certainly is not something all students can manage.

As Reeves says, “It takes a special person to be a student-athlete, whether it be in a rigorous discipline like nursing, or just getting a degree. Period.”

This is especially true for student nurses, as according to third-year soccer defender Kelsey Thorkelsson, the life of a student-athlete nurse is hectic and busy. Each week, she practices two hours a day and has over 24 hours of class, which includes two full days of clinical placement on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Not to mention, Thorkelsson’s weekends are usually jam-packed, as the women’s soccer team is usually on the road.

“I try to focus one day at a time because if you look at the big picture you might get overwhelmed.”

Like Thorkelsson, Bos says managing her schedule comes down to two things.

“Organization and communication,” says Bos who has been named an Academic All-Canadian four times. “Ever since first getting into the nursing program, I always go to my professor the very first day of class. I give her a piece of paper with all the days I’m going to be missing class over the semester, we talk about how I’ll make up exams.

“I’ve done exams in hotels, in airports and at restaurants.”

In addition to communicating with professors, Bos, who led her team in points per game and was second in minutes played last season, also stresses the importance of communicating with her coaches. If she knows that she is going to miss a training session, she arranges one-on-one video sessions or additional times she get can in the gym to get some extra work in after practice.

Although there’s no denying that Bos has excelled on the court and in the class, the physical demand of both her commitments is challenging, but she wouldn’t change a thing.

“It’s exhausting for sure,” she says. “But I love basketball and I love nursing, so that’s why I don’t mind it at all. All day long I’m just doing what I enjoy.”

As much as being a student nurse is challenging, third-year WolfPack soccer player and study partner of Thorkelsson, Robin Price, says skills that athletes develop and learn over the years such as teamwork, help them succeed as nurses. This is definitely something that is noticed by Shari Caputo, a lecturer in the school of nursing, who has taught her share of student-athletes.

“(Student-athletes) are definitely more skilled as far as working together with other nursing students, or with patients and families,” Caputo says.

It’s very evident that the relationship between the athletic and nursing department has blossomed, and that the students who wear both uniforms and scrubs are most certainly driven and determined about their two passions. After all, Price, Bos, and Thorkelsson have all combined their passions on the field of play and in the locker room by answering medical questions. In fact, earlier this year Thorkelsson could have been spotted on the sidelines of the Thompson Rivers WolfPack women’s soccer practice, with a medical kit in hand, taking care of one of her teammate’s minor injuries.

“As the student nurse, they (teammates) look to you to help them out,” she says. “I’m more than happy to and quite enjoy it.”


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