Bright Leaders of Calgary: Dr. Elizabeth Van Den Kerkhof, Mount Royal University

February 14, 2023
Leadership Team Calgary Life Sciences Talent
Dr. Kerkhof Banner Image 1920

This article is part of the Bright Leaders of Calgary series which features prominent corporate leaders in Calgary and their insights on the business community and economic future.   

Calgary is home to talent with solutions to global challenges. Many bright minds with big ideas hone their skills at Mount Royal University (MRU), a pillar post-secondary institution in Calgary. 

As the world shifts and demand for skilled talent rises, the Mount Royal University Nursing program prepares the next generation of health care professionals to care for a complex and growing population. 

With Alberta home to Canada’s first and largest province-wide health care system, MRU nursing students experience unique work-integrated learning opportunities. 

Dr. Elizabeth Van Den Kerkhof, Director of the MRU School of Nursing and Midwifery, shares how the university provides future-focused learning opportunities for nursing students, aligned with the talent driver in the economic strategy, Calgary in the New Economy 

We caught up with Dr. Van Den Kerkhof to provide insight into how MRU is responding to the growing need for healthcare talent by decreasing barriers to education and leveraging technology. 

How does MRU leverage technology and innovation to educate the next generation of nurses? 

The Health Simulation Learning Centre (Sim Lab) is one of our most obvious examples of how MRU is leveraging tech and innovation.  This is an entirely immersive experience which places students in vividly realistic scenarios – ranging from a hectic emergency room to a calm community care setting. Here, students experience elevated clinical practice scenarios with a variety of health outcomes and situations. It’s a place where they can make mistakes and learn from them without fear of harming the patient, while experiencing situations they may otherwise not have encountered in their student clinical practice. 

We also develop and adjust our policies, lessons and curriculum based on the advancement of technology in the world around us.  

For example, we’re changing our policy in the Sim Lab to allow cellphones in the room.  Before, our policy was that students’ cellphones stay in the locker, but this is not what happens at work in the real world, where nurses use their cellphones all the time. We’re amending our policy so we can address how cellphones can be used professionally and ethically as a tool in providing care.  

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is the first and largest province-wide, fully integrated health care system in Canada, serving more than 4.4 million patients. Is there an advantage for students studying at MRU to have opportunities for work-integrated learning within AHS?   

I think there is a definite advantage to the provincial health care model in Alberta.  

Because of the consistency across the AHS system, such as the recent adoption of Connect Care, students can more easily transition across acute care facilities. As a result, they spend less time learning about systems and process and more time on patient care.  

The provincial system is especially supportive for our Internationally Educated Nurse students in the Bridge to Canadian Nursing program who have recently moved to Alberta. We are piloting a program that allows these students to complete their clinical practice closer to home, rather than needing to relocate to Calgary. The provincial system makes this process of placing students across Alberta much more stream-lined than it would be if we had to work with multiple jurisdictions to place students. 

International nurses from around the world look to MRU’s Bridge to Canadian Nursing to be certified and practice in Canada. How does this program prepare prospective nurses for a career in Calgary? 

With the global demand for health care professionals on the rise, MRU is looking to expand the Bridge to Canadian Nursing – BCN program – to support, educate and prepare Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs) immigrating to Canada, to practice in Canada.  

The program accepts eligible IEN’s, who take nursing theory courses and participate in a clinical placement within AHS. Through this program, nurses are equipped to meet the requirements of the College of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CRNA) and pass the national licensure exam (NCLEX). 

To respond to the needs of our community, we are expanding our programs to meet demand for health care professionals and educate the next generation of health care professionals in Alberta.  Currently we accept 120 students a year in this program, but we’re looking to double the seats and accept 240 students.  

To expedite the time to independent practice for IENs, CRNA is also working to shorten the assessment phase in Alberta, which IEN’s must undergo to determine if they require additional education. If CRNA indicates additional education is required, IENs can then apply to our program, the only comprehensive IEN bridging program in Alberta with courses specifically developed to meet the requirements of CRNA.  

We also work closely with AHS to facilitate clinical placements as demonstrated by our recent collaboration to keep students in their communities as much as possible. This reduces cost and disruption to students. They are paid during the supervised clinical practice and offered employment upon completion, all while providing much needed nursing care to residents of Calgary and to residents in rural and remote regions of Alberta. 

Work-integrated learning (WIL) is a focus for a wide range of disciplines but has always been an integral part of health care education. What can nursing teach other areas about WIL? 

Work-integrated learning – or experiential learning – is a critical, foundational component to achieve competence in your field. This has always been a key component of education in the health professions, where the ability to communicate with people is paramount to success. In the nursing program, students have multiple opportunities in their more than 1,400 hours of clinical practice to interact with people in clinical and community settings. This experience is in addition to the many hours they spend in laboratory and simulation settings.  

Experiential learning helps them become resilient in difficult situations, and collaborative in teamwork. WIL allows students to build critical and analytical skillsets, and learn what it means to be a good leader and team member.  

It’s one thing to learn how to do the work, and it’s quite another to understand and excel in your role within a team. Across all disciplines, work-integrated learning builds these skills for students. 

What role does MRU play in preparing our community for anticipated challenges in health care as the Calgary community continues to grow? 

We look at emerging challenges to our community, and in health care, to inform our curriculum. We know that our aging population will be an ongoing challenge, but we also know they provide a great opportunity. Many of our standardized patients are older adults who contribute to the education of our students. We also know that we can leverage technology to find solutions to provide better care to older adults in their homes and in health-care settings.  

Recently, the School of Nursing and Midwifery was a recipient of a generous donation to support older adult health and technology development by the Riddell Family Charitable Foundation and Brawn Family Foundation. These gifts enabled MRU to stand out as a leader in these spaces.  

To address Calgary’s emerging health care needs, we’ve reassigned a faculty member to take on the role of Chair in Older Adult Health. She is developing curriculum to support the aging population, networking with community partners to leverage technology and expertise to improve older adult health and engaging with the wider community to have open discussions about aging. The latter includes an intergenerational speaker series which engages the community in conversations about growing older. We have also hired a faculty member with expertise in simulation to work with faculty to expand simulation opportunities for students.  

Ultimately, we keep a pulse on life in Calgary and prepare our students for a successful, fulfilling career in caring for fellow Albertans.  


The Team Calgary corporate partnership program engages our community’s visionary thought leaders to influence Calgary’s economic growth and create long-term prosperity and opportunities for all Calgarians. 

Together, we advance the economic strategy, Calgary in the New Economy, as the path to make Calgary the place where bright minds and big ideas come together with an unmatched spirit to help solve global challenges. 

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