Taryn Phaneuf is a fourth-year nursing student at the University of Saskatchewan Prince Albert campus. (Photo: Submitted)

USask nursing student explores ways early childhood intervention can prevent substance use and caregiver stress

Taryn Phaneuf was a research assistant for Dr. Geoffrey Maina (PhD). His work and research focused on school-based interventions for preventing substance use in Indigenous children, as well as the experience of caregiver stress when caring for relatives with substance abuse.

The work resulted in the publishing of a manuscript and another that will be published soon. Phaneuf has excelled in his program and has notable performances in theory classes, the clinical setting and in the field of research.  

Phaneuf was recognized with an award for research at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Indigenous Student Achievement Awards, which was held virtually on Feb. 4, 2021, to honour USask Indigenous students for their academic excellence, leadership, research, community engagement and resiliency.

The award ceremony was part of Indigenous Achievement Week (IAW), which celebrated the successes and contributions of Métis, First Nations and Inuit students, staff and faculty within the context of this year’s theme: nīkānihk itohtētān, walking together into the future. We asked Taryn a few questions about his journey at USask.

Why did you choose nursing?

There are many reasons why I chose nursing. I knew that I wanted to choose a career that would allow me to face new tasks and challenges each and every day. Nursing also allows me the opportunity to have a diverse work portfolio as there are many ways in which you can use your nursing education. Lastly, the privilege you get as a nurse to have the trust of clients when they are in an uncomfortable and vulnerable state is an honour, and something that provides me with a sense of accomplishment and pushes me to deliver empathetic care to each patient and family that I will encounter throughout my career.

How is school intervention important in preventing substance use and stress in caring for relatives with substance abuse?

Indigenous peoples across the world share traumatic colonial experiences that have continued to create inequalities which impact every aspect of their lives. The effect of intergenerational trauma and other health disparities have a profound effect on Indigenous children and adolescents. Research shows that Indigenous youth are at a higher risk of adverse mental health and addiction outcomes compared with non-Indigenous youth.

Dr. Maina discovered in his research that many Indigenous children are exposed to addictive substances at an early age, which has potential to lead to early initiation of substance use, potentially creating physical and mental health issues for these youth. We found that there is a lack of school programs focused on prevention of substance use for school age-children aged seven to 13, which leaves these children susceptible to substance initiation at a young age. This scoping review for school-based substance use prevention programs uncovered that emphasis should be placed on understanding the substance use prevention intervention for elementary school children, who are at a risk of substance use.

We argue that prevention is the best intervention for Indigenous communities struggling with substance use challenges. The proposed scoping review has the potential to influence future policy, programs and services supporting the health and well-being of Indigenous youth in Canada and across the globe. This will be done by seeking to identify the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings that characterize these interventions, leading to the development of school-based intervention programs designed to have positive influence on Indigenous youth by promoting resilience through incorporation of traditional Indigenous knowledge into these school-based programs.

As far as the project regarding the stresses of caring for relatives with substance abuse, the goal is to raise awareness of the effects that substance abuse has on a family and community. Substance use impacts a family’s everyday life, health, social relations, family relationships, routines, careers and finances. With the growing substance use crisis in the community of Prince Albert, there was a need to understand how its families expressed their feelings and desires during a community engagement and knowledge exchange event. At this event, participants identified the lack of support for families affected by substance use as a significant gap in care.

For those caregivers and families caring for those struggling with substance use, some themes which were uncovered included: grieving the loss due to a severed relationship, living in dread and despair, a state of crisis within their lives and a lack of resources to help their loved ones and family cope and reduce substance use and associated issues. These feelings lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This research project identified that treatment of addiction needs to be re-evaluated to ensure that families are fully integrated into the care model. This research project was just the beginning and further research is required to develop evidence-based interventions focusing on family-focused substance use treatment.

How have your studies and research developed your knowledge, skills and leadership?

It has been beneficial to see Dr. Maina work with a smile on his face each day. He is generous with his time and shows a passion for his area of research. Seeing this has encouraged me to seek out my passion for Indigenous health and I hope to someday take my career down a path where I can improve the health of our Indigenous population. The opportunity to work on research projects while studying have had substantial impact on my personal trajectory. It provided an opportunity to develop a new skillset, increased my knowledge on many different subjects and has allowed me to network with many different people. Thus, having positive influence on my studies as well as allowing me to become a better practitioner within the clinical setting by having a profound understanding of substance abuse.

This knowledge has allowed me to develop leadership qualities through knowledge translation with peers, in hopes that together we may better understand those who are struggling with substance use and eliminate many biases in which these members of the population face.

Has someone in your life inspired you to get to where you are today?

There are so many people who have inspired me to get to where I am today, it is hard to choose just one. My father has been a sense of inspiration my whole life. He also pursued a career in health care, he began his career as a registered nurse and has since moved into various administrative positions within the Saskatchewan Health Authority. On numerous accounts, he has been recognized by former patients who remember the respect in which he treated them with while receiving care and the diligence to go above and beyond what is expected to ensure that these patients had great experiences while receiving care in the hospital. This always serves as a reminder that our patients will remember their experience and how you made them feel for the rest of their lives. His values of always treating people with respect and his tireless work ethic are something that I hope to emulate as I begin my career as a nurse.

This year’s Indigenous Achievement Week theme is nīkānihk itohtētān, walking together into the future. What does this mean to you?

To me, nīkānihk itohtētān, walking together into the future, means that we as people must come together and maintain a mutually respectful relationship between all peoples. In order to do this, we must acknowledge the truths of the past and develop a plan that leads us towards reconciliation, respect and a mutual understanding of all people. We are at a state in our world where it is crucial that, as a society, we begin to hold hands with our brothers and sisters around the globe and walk together in unity in order to create a world where we live in love, truth, honesty, courage, humility, wisdom and respect.

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