Student advocates, plasma donation and the pandemic

Thursday, February 24, 2022 Dr. Geraldine Walsh

Engaging the next generation of blood, plasma and stem cell donors and advocates is important to sustain Canada’s Lifeline into the future. Canadian Blood Services’ Dr. Kelly Holloway recently finished an exploratory study to identify and document the ways students engage with Canadian Blood Services. In interviews with student leaders at college and university campuses across Canada, Dr. Holloway learned how they have continued advocating for donation during two years of disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her findings show how the lessons learned from pivoting their efforts during COVID-19 restrictions could be applied to future changes and challenges.

Exploring such a pivot was a key objective of the study, as Dr. Holloway wished to better understand how students might be engaged to promote plasma donation. Canadian Blood Services is working to increase Canada’s domestic plasma sufficiency to meet the rising need for plasma. Source plasma is used to manufacture lifesaving therapies derived from the proteins in human plasma and globally, the use and demand for these products continue to rise. Collecting more plasma in Canada will help thousands of patients who depend on these therapies. Engaging with younger donors will be important part of Canadian Blood Services’ efforts to help recruit and retain the additional plasma donors that will be needed.

Learn more about Dr. Holloway’s research to understand motivations behind plasma donation.

Dr. Holloway’s study first sought to understand how student leaders are currently involved with organising on campus, what strategies they see as effective, and what they find challenging. Against that background, she aimed to understand whether student leaders would be interested in or able to start advocating for plasma collection. With a sociological approach, Dr. Holloway interviewed 16 student leaders from 12 different universities across seven provinces. These student leaders were involved in campus blood clubs or stem cell clubs or acted as community volunteers. Many were involved in Canadian Blood Services NextGen Lifeline. The student leaders had been previously involved in initiatives such as on-campus blood drives, typing events, or stem cell registration events.

Did you know, Canadian Blood Services has a youth recruitment program? NextGen Lifeline is made up of young volunteers who are passionate about advocating for blood, plasma, stem cell and organ and tissue donation to support Canada’s Lifeline.

To learn more about NextGen Lifeline visit the NextGen Lifeline page on

To read more about the work of Stem Cell Club, read Canadian Blood Services story: Meet Stem Cell Club.

Through interviews with the students, the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic on many of their outreach initiatives became clear. A prominent theme that emerged was that before COVID 19, students valued in-person connection with peers at on-campus blood drives and other events. With COVID-19 disruptions, in-person events were cancelled and engaging with peers and recruiting volunteers became harder. Many clubs got creative and found ways to continue engaging despite the restrictions. They involved their broader network by reaching out to other on-campus clubs and societies, they used videos, virtual tools and online classes to advertise off-campus blood drives and promote donation. Social media became very central to their efforts to organize meetings, share information, connect with peers and advertise events.

Many of the ways students changed their efforts due to the pandemic were quite successful and may continue in the long term. Participants of the study said moving forward, on-campus engagement will be a hybrid model, with some events online and some in person. Importantly, the lessons students are learning about how to pivot, adjust, and re-learn during this pandemic can be applied to any change in how they do their work on campus, including switching focus to plasma donation.

Dr. Holloway’s study showed that half of the student leaders knew about the need for plasma: three of whom knew because their club has already transitioned to promote plasma. Many knew about Canadian Blood Services’ proof of concept source plasma donation sites (in Sudbury, Lethbridge and Kelowna; eight more sites are planned over the next two years). Students in Sudbury and Lethbridge have already begun advocating for plasma donation.

Of the 13 students who were not yet advocating for plasma donation, eight said they would consider beginning work to advocate for plasma if that’s where Canadian Blood Services needs their efforts. Many indicated that they would need more information to do this successfully. Others were not sure, expressing reservations due to having no nearby plasma centre, the inability to hold on-campus mobile plasma events, and the need to align with regional needs. Challenges included a lack of knowledge about plasma and how it impacts recipients, and about how the process of plasma donation differs from whole blood donation.

Ultimately, the results show what students will need to pivot their efforts to promote plasma donation. Training, information on the need for plasma, tool kits, brochures and support from Canadian Blood Services will all play a role in equipping students with what they need to succeed in their efforts to support Canada’s Lifeline. The important work of student leaders supports one of Canadian Blood Services’ key focus areas: to build and deepen relationships with donors of the future. Supporting and empowering young leaders to engage with their peers on issues of donation will help sustain Canada’s lifeline into the future.

If you’re interested in learning more about the study and the results, contact Dr. Kelly Holloway.

Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact.

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.


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