Author Archives: ARNBC

A Call to Cease Hostilities, by Paddy Rodney, RN

I love nursing. I loved it from the minute my feet ‘hit the ground’ as a nursing student 42 years ago and through all my clinical practice, teaching and research ever since. As I am sure is the case for most nurses reading this blog, my experiences caring for individuals, families and communities have taught me fundamental truths about what it means to be human, and I have treasured the nursing colleagues (including students) whom I have learned from and with.

I am fortunate to have had the privilege to witness and participate in constructive political action in nursing. I became one of the first BCNU stewards in 1981 when the labour relations division of the Registered Nurses Association of BC (RNABC [1]) broke away and formed an independent union (https://www.bcnu.org/about-bcnu/history-mission-vision). And in 2009 I joined a group of nurses that led to the formation of the Association of Registered Nurses of BC (ARNBC) (http://www.arnbc.ca/about-us/about-us.php). I became involved in the BCNU and the ARNBC because, like so many other nurses, I am passionate about the well-being of individual nurses, of our profession as a whole, and of the public we serve. I believe that in our economically constrained era, it is crucial that the foundational pillars of a regulatory college, a professional union, and a professional association stand together to support nursing practice [2].

However, I don’t love the political conflicts that erupt from time to time in nursing—especially right now in BC. The September 2013 lawsuit by the BCNU against ARNBC and CRNBC, alleges that CRNBC should not have provided a $1.5 million grant to ARNBC to support start-up costs. These start-up funds were intended to enable ARNBC to take over association-related duties that CRNBC was no longer able to fulfill, and to enable ARNBC to act as the member-driven professional association which nurses identified was missing in the Province. (Read CRNBC: Information about BCNU lawsuit against CRNBC and ARNBC)

The more recent action stems from the Association’s Extraordinary Meeting in February, which was held to update ARNBC’s bylaws and rectify some inconsistencies that occurred when ARNBC, as a fledgling organization, was non-compliant with the Societies Act (the Association chose to utilize electronic voting for Board Members in order to provide opportunities to vote to B.C. nurses from all parts of the province, despite the fact that our bylaws indicated a vote by ‘show of hands’ was required). This latest legal action actually seeks to declare almost everything ARNBC has done “null and void”, replace the board of directors, and cancel our May 28th AGM. Both legal actions seem like an overly strong response to an organization (and its individuals) that are working hard to build an Association that supports nursing and patients.

These attacks on the ARNBC right now risk all three pillars supporting nursing in BC. The association could lose its fiscal and administrative stability, the regulatory college could find itself without an arms length body to take up advocacy work, and the union could find itself losing a great deal of capital—dollars spent on legal onslaughts and respect lost from nurses, the public, and other unions.

So, in closing, I am requesting that these legal hostilities cease. None of our three organizations is perfect, but we need to build better communication and collaboration strategies, not try to destroy each other. Nursing needs and deserves better.

ABOUT PADDY RODNEY, RN

paddyPaddy Rodney, RN, is a nurse educator with a speciality in ethics. Paddy is currently an Associate Professor at the UBC School of Nursing and is affiliated with the UBC Centre for Applied Ethics, Providence Health Care Ethics Services, and the Canadian Bioethics Society. Over the last 25 years, she has lectured and consulted on nursing ethics for nursing associations and unions.

 

———————————

[1] The RNABC became the College of Registered Nurses of BC (CRNBC) in 2005 after the BC government brought in the Health Professions Act, which called for the separation of regulatory (public protection) from association (advocacy) functions.

[2] Duncan, S., Rodney, P.A., & Thorne, S. (2014). Forging a strong nursing future: Insights from the Canadian context. Journal of Research in Nursing, 19 (7-8), 621-633. See also International Council of Nurses (2014). Pillars and programmes. Available at: http://www.icn.ch/pillarsprograms/pillars-and-programmes/ (accessed 30 May 2014).

My Journey with ARNBC, by Linda Axen, RN

Congratulations on finding your way to the ARNBC webpage! By cruising through the website and reading blogs you have already taken your curiosity from thought to action. I also took that step exploring ARNBC online a few years ago and now I find myself privileged to sit on the Board of Directors representing the diverse voices of nurses working in northern B.C. This blog is my story of taking action which I hope will inspire some of you who have been thinking about becoming more active in your profession to find ways to take the next steps.

A professional high-point for me was having the opportunity to attend and present at the Canadian Nurses Association 2012 Biennial Conference. Attending that conference, soaking in the words of Canadian nursing leaders was an awe-inspiring event. I encourage all nurses to endeavour to attend at least one CNA conference for the simple yet profound sense of professional pride you will enjoy. Of particular interest was the sharing of the report A Nursing Call to Action: The health of our nation, the future of our health system. It filled me with hope and a sense of purpose that nurses throughout the country were capable of contributing to solutions to better the health of Canadians.

In early spring of 2014 I received an email notification that nominations for the ARNBC Board were open. I wanted to have my name put forward but at the same time I was very nervous and reluctant to compete for a Regional Director position. I overcame my fears only because I knew my regrets would haunt me if I didn’t try for the position. I am so happy that I took that risk. As a Board Director, I have attended meetings which occur approximately five times a year face-to-face and a few times per year by teleconference. The time commitments for connecting with nurses in the regions vary for each Board member. At every meeting and teleconference I am continually inspired by the passion that fellow Board members exhibit in representing nurses throughout the province. I am proud to think   that time spent on Board activities Board allows me to contribute my voice to influencing positive change on social and health issues in British Columbia.

So if you are like I was a few months ago, thinking about being more active in representing the voice of nurses, take the time to familiarize yourself with the webpage, explore becoming a network lead or consider contributing your voice on the Board of Directors. Nominations for Directors are open, so visit our website for more information http://www.arnbc.ca/agm/index.php  and consider letting your name stand for nomination. It’s a decision you won’t regret.

ABOUT LINDA AXEN, RN

Linda1Linda started with Northern Health in October 2011 as the Nursing Research Facilitator and is currently the Northern Health Cardiac Triage Coordinator. Prior to the Nursing Research Facilitator role, Linda worked for many years in clinical research in Vancouver including five years in Cardiology Research at Vancouver General Hospital. In completing her Master of Nursing in 2011 from the University of Victoria, Linda gained a greater understanding of the contributions nursing makes to health policy development and the complexities of the social and environmental forces within which nursing has developed as a profession.

Concurrent to working in Northern Health as the Nursing Research Facilitator, Linda co-taught the Introduction to Nursing Research course at the University of Northern BC. Working with the students afforded Linda insight into the amazing strength, energy and professionalism that newly graduated nurses bring to our ever-evolving work environments. Linda is passionate about encouraging practicing nurses to develop expertise in research and research-related activities and evidence-informed practice. Linda has been actively involved in the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative and is a certified member of the Society of Clinical Research Professionals. She is well aware of the powerful economic contribution the north makes to the overall fiscal strength of our province and recognizes that this economic contribution requires a healthy and robust workforce.

Budget Lockup: Insights from ARNBC, by Zak Matieschyn, NP

Recently, I had the privilege of joining Joy Peacock, Executive Director of ARNBC, in the B.C. Budget Lockup. For those who are not aware, this is a secured room wherein around 200 stakeholders have an advanced preview of the details of the budget and service plans. This is also where the media interviews these stakeholders in order to get their stories aired in a timely manner following the budget speech.

This was the first time ARNBC was invited to participate in the Budget Lockup – an event that can only be attended by invitation of the Finance Minister. Beginning January 1 of this year, ARNBC entered a new phase, and is now a member-driven organization representing all B.C. registered nurses and nurse practitioners. Being invited to participate in Budget Lockup was a strong signal of how government views the importance of the Association and the work we’ve been mandated to do.

The budget itself was a relatively benign affair for healthcare. Increases to healthcare spending will be a very modest 2.9% per year. My review of the Ministry of Health service plan noted much of the same language as last year: commitments to primary disease prevention and health promotion, improving primary/community care through inter-professional teams, and improving rural healthcare to name a few. From a theoretical perspective – this is music to the ears of the nursing profession. As we know and have been educated, these points are among the mainstays of what are needed to reform healthcare. What is concerning is a lack of a blueprint of how we get there. We are talking about a fundamental shift in how healthcare is delivered to become more up-stream, integrated, and team-based. Uttering the correct words is a fine start, but such an objective will require dedicated monies to operationalize this plan, as well as an understanding that this will be a front heavy, longer term process. That is, the benefits will be slower to materialize than can fit in a single budget year or government election cycle. The other point lacking is collaboration with nursing. Registered nurses and nurse practitioners possess exactly the knowledge and expertise of a healthcare system described in the service plan. It is simply a waste of available talent, capacity and leadership to exclude nursing from the spheres of policy planning and implementation.

Also disappointing was the lack of mention of nurse practitioners when commenting on plans for improving access to full service primary care. Over the past 10 years, NPs have slowly been implemented to improve access for British Columbians to primary health care – both in urban and rural settings. Once again, new NPs find themselves without an existing hiring initiative, let alone a robust funding model, to permit them the opportunity to improve primary healthcare access to regions of the province in desperate need of help.

On the brighter side, I was pleased to observe the significant step of eliminating the clawback of child-support payments for single parents on income or disability assistance. This is a relatively low cost intervention (costing only $19 million annually but helping to lift nearly 6000 children out of poverty) which directly impacts the health of these individuals and the health of our society. Nursing has long known the impacts of social determinants on health and government would do very well to continue to explore these evidenced based health and social policy reforms.

The media scrum that occurred towards the end of lockup was a chaotic scene – throngs of stakeholders and reporters mobbing each other. I noticed a friend of mine in the crowd representing another group. “How does this thing work?” I asked. “You just grab the next available reporter and talk to them” she expertly answered. Seemed simple enough yet daunting to the novice that I am, but as I observed the goings on, there did seem to be an order amongst the madness. I did manage to speak with a few reporters about our associations’ reactions to the budget and with luck they may use the story.

I will sharpen my elbows for the next opportunity.

ABOUT ZAK MATIESCHYN
Zak

Zak’s interest in health and healing began at the early age of nine years-old when he would carry a small first aid kit while playing with friends. Since then, his passion for healthcare and health policy has been unwavering. He was particularly inspired by concepts of family, community, and societal health, as well as the social determinants of health during his nursing undergraduate (BSN UVic, 2000), graduate work (MN UVic, 2008), and clinical experience in urban, rural and remote B.C. communities.

Zak has served on numerous boards and committees, including the BC Nurse Practitioners Association Executive and is the only Nurse Practitioner in B.C. who has been invited to sit on a Division of Family Practice Board (Interior). Through this work he has gained valuable experience in member engagement, optimizing board governance, and relationship building among diverse stakeholders. In his clinical practice, Zak has worked med/surg, emergency, intensive care, vascular access and outpost nursing. After obtaining his NP education six years ago, he began a practice in a West Kootenay family clinic, providing primary healthcare to the general public with a focus on marginalized populations. Zak is president-elect of ARNBC.

Reflecting on our Success, by Julie Fraser, RN, MN, ARNBC President

As we move forward into 2015, and my final months as president of ARNBC, I value this opportunity to reflect on ARNBC’s achievements over the past year and look ahead to the future that is unfolding for the Association and nursing in BC. I am so proud that through the hard work and dedication of many nurses in BC, ARNBC has grown into its role as the professional voice for nursing leadership, policy and practice in British Columbia.

In January 2015, registered nurses and nurse practitioners began the registration process with the College of Registered Nurses of BC (CRNBC). This was an historic occasion as, for the first time CRNBC began collecting professional association fees on behalf of ARNBC. Through the Health Professions Act, the province has set a visionary and revolutionary precedent by providing professions with the ability to self-regulate in the interest of the public, while continuing to advance their profession and influence change for health and social policy issues.

Upon registration, CRNBC is now collecting a total of $450.18 from each registered nurse and $651.48 from each nurse practitioner. When you register, you will notice that a total of $98.82 is allocated as Association fees. Of this, CNA receives $57.69 and ARNBC receives $41.13. It is important to note that registration fees for individual nurses have not increased at all.

At this point in the registration process, nearly half of you have already registered for 2015, and just over 85% of you have clearly indicated that you want to hear from ARNBC and CNA. This is a fabulous show of support and validates what so many of you have been saying for the past decade – B.C. nursing needs the contributions of all three nursing organizations – the College, the Union and the Association. We value the trust you have placed in us and regard it as our responsibility to move forward with you in the months and years to come. That said, we are pleased to offer all registered nurses and nurse practitioners access to all ARNBC and CNA programs and services – even if you have chosen to not receive our information updates.

ARNBC continues to build a strong relationship with our national organization, CNA. As president of your Association, I sit on the CNA board of directors where I have the honour of raising health and nursing issues from a B.C. perspective at the national level. CNA continues to be one of our greatest partners and ARNBC is one of many associations and nursing groups that make up the CNA Board. We value their support and leadership in recognizing ARNBC as the best option for B.C. nurses to connect on a national and international level. ARNBC’s status as the CNA jurisdictional representative provides B.C. registered nurses and nurse practitioners with more than a subscription to Canadian Nurse: opportunities to be a voting delegate, chances to inform on CNA resolutions and bylaw forums, engagement in federal lobbying initiatives and connecting with specialty nursing groups.

MemberPrograms

Click to Enlarge

My greatest hope is that over the next weeks and months, nursing in British Columbia will begin to unify to claim the strong, compassionate, and informed voice that our patients have come to expect and trust from us. The College, the Association and the Union all bring unique but important perspectives to patient care and health system improvements – and at a time when there are so many important issues to manage, we need to work together for the health of our patients and the advancement of our profession.

As you can see, our list of achievements is long and growing steadily longer, in large part because you have told us what you would like to see in an Association. We are excited to be heading out to many parts of the province over the next few months, and hope that we will meet as many of you as possible and you will share your vision for what an Association can do for you. Every single conversation with a registered nurse or nurse practitioner is important to the Association. After all, your voice is our strength!

Click to view ARNBC programs and services for registered nurses and nurse practitioners.

ABOUT JULIE FRASER, RN, MN, ARNBC PRESIDENT

JulieJulie Fraser is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in the area of Home Care. She has been a registered nurse for more than 15 years and has practiced in a number of different settings from residential care to acute medical and surgical care units, before focusing on community nursing, working in both clinical and educator roles.

Self-Care in Nursing: A Call to Action, by Maren Austen, BSN Student

There is evidence that nurses know that we should take care of ourselves and how we should be doing it, yet there is still a gap between what is known and what is practiced (Malloy, et al.). As a profession centered on caring, nurses spend much of our time providing care for others; unfortunately, we often do not give the same consideration to self-care – those activities we do to rejuvenate and refresh ourselves, our spirit, and our energy (Lombardo, et al). Kravits, McAllister-Black, Grant, & Kirk summarized the impact of poor self-care succinctly, “Nurses whose own emotional reservoirs are low are less equipped to meet the care needs of their patients, and this may negatively impact patient safety”.

The World Health Organization defines self-care as “activities individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health”. According to the Buffalo University Master’s in Social Work Self-Care program, a successful self-care plan factors in six key areas: Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellness, Spiritual Needs, Positive Relationships, and School/Work/LifeBalance (Butler, et al). Exercising, journaling, eating well, meditating, maintaining outside interests, and praying, are examples of self-care strategies.

For many RNs, self-care is a concept that seems like a luxury that we do not have time for (Lombardo, et al). However, it doesn’t matter if you are a nursing student, new graduate, acute care nurse, or community health nurse, we all need to take care of our own wellbeing so that we can meet the challenges each of us will face at school, work, and home (Jackson, et al).

So how do you find the time for self-care? First of all it is important to acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all self-care plan. We each have different workloads, lifestyles, circumstances, interests, and needs. Therefore, it is important that each of us take a couple of minutes to identify our individual needs and priorities.

Self-Care Assessment – How are you doing?

As nurses, we are all familiar with the importance of eating healthy meals throughout the day, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly but when was the last time you praised yourself? Belted out a song? How about made time to be sexual with yourself or your partner? These are all simple ways that we can recharge and refill our own personal energy stores. Butler et al. have created a comprehensive Self-Care Assessment Tool to help individuals evaluate their current self-care strategies. While I understand that this tool was developed by a Masters in Social Work program and not specifically for nurses, I believe it is a wonderfully comprehensive assessment tool from a fellow health care profession with similar caring and burnout concerns. Take a few minutes and follow this link to explore this assessment tool – you can’t fix what you don’t know! http://socialwork.buffalo.edu/content/dam/socialwork/home/self-care-kit/self-care-assessment.pdf

Make a Self-Care Plan

Butler et al (2014) recommend making a self-care plan to help you maintaina positive self-care regime. Examine your Self-Care Assessment responses and look for trends and annomolies. Are there any areaslacking in support? For each of the six areas (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relationships, school/work/life-balance), write out your current practice and then below it, write out your new practice. Some areas might need only slight alteration and others might never have been consciously addressed before. Keep your goals interesting to you and simple enough to fit into your current schedule. Follow this link to a sample self-care plan by Butler et al, (2014):http://socialwork.buffalo.edu/content/dam/socialwork/home/self-care-kit/my-maintenance-self-care-worksheet.pdf.

Make a Commitment

Once you have developed an initial plan, it is time to make a commitment to yourself and share your commitment with those around you. If you are able to articulate to your loved ones, classmates, coworkers, and friends why you are taking time for you and how you are also making space and time for quality relations with each of them, they are better able to support you and your wellness plan. Also recognize that this plan is a work in progress and will need to be reviewed and adapted as you incorporate self-care into your lives and especially as your lives change and evolve.

Wishing you all balance and wellness!

marenABOUT MAREN AUSTIN

I am a 4th year student in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at North Island College in Courtenay BC with a 4.0 GPA. Being a full-time student, working part-time as an employed student nurse in addition to raising my young daughter, I have come to understand the need for self-care first hand. This topic has become so important to my own overall wellbeing that I have felt compelled to share my learnings with those around me. With this in mind, myself and several classmates have spent many hours outside of the classroom creating opportunities for our fellow nursing students to engage in self-care and to help them develop the self-care strategies they will need to be compassionate, engaged nurses in their future practice.

 

References:

Butler, Rinfrette, & Reiser, (2014). Self-care starter kit. Buffalo University Master of Social Work Program. http://socialwork.buffalo.edu/resources/self-care-starter-kit.html

Jackson, J. & Gaudet, S. (2009). Self-care practices among nursing students. Canadian Nursing Student Association Positions and Resolutions. http://cnsa.ca/english/publications/resolutions-and-position-statements/position-statements/self-care-practices-among-nursing-students

Kravits, K., McAllister-Black, R., Grant, M., & Kirk, C. (2010). Self-care strategies for nurses: A psycho-educational intervention for stress reduction and the prevention of burnout. Applied Nursing Research, 23, 130–138. doi:10.1016/j.apnr.2008.08.002

Lombardo, B. & Eyre, C. (2011).Compassion fatigue: A nurse’s primer. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 16(1). Retrieved from: http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Vol-16-2011/No1-Jan-2011/Compassion-Fatigue-A-Nurses-Primer.html

Malloy, P., Thrane, S., Winston, T., Virani, R., & Kelly, K. (2013). Do nurses who care for patients in palliative and end-of-life settings perform good self-care? Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing, 15(2), 99-106. doi:10.1097/NJH.0b013e31826bef72

WHO. (1984). Health education in self-care: Possibilities and limitations. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 1984 Retrieved from: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/70092/1/HED_84.1.pdf?ua=1

 

Verna Huffman Splane: Our gentle giant – “Look up, look waaaay up”, by Michael Villeneuve, RN

Verna Marie Huffman Splane OC, Diploma in Nursing (Nicholls Hosp, Peterborough), Diploma in Public Health Nursing (Toronto), BSc (Columbia), MPH (Michigan), LLD (Hon, Queen’s), LLD (Hon, St. Francis Xavier), LLD (Hon, UBC), DSc (Hon, Toronto), Fellow of the American Public Health Assoc.

November 23, 1914 — January 10, 2015

Verna Splane WHO ID badge 1965

WHO 1965

The word giant has been tossed around by many of us this past week in reference to the life, career and persona of our colleague, teacher, mentor and friend, Verna Huffman Splane. First setting eyes on Verna, the word giant might, in the most literal sense, seem to have missed the mark; she was, after all, a petite woman of small physical stature. But to anyone who spent even a few moments with her, it was clear that one was in the presence of greatness, and indeed of a giant sprit and intellect. She was tiny but she was mighty in every sense of that word — and she was utterly unforgettable.

Verna had the bearing of a respected, elder statesman. If she set her eyes on you, they looked deeply into yours and stayed there. You were being checked out. They were heavy with wisdom and experience, but never world-weary. She sparkled with curiosity, engagement and interest in everything right to the end of her life.

When Verna entered a room, attention was paid. At the Carter Center in 2001, she and her beloved Richard were jointly awarded prizes by the Lillian Carter Center for International Nursing Award by Emory University “for their groundbreaking work to document the role of chief nursing officers worldwide.” Even President Carter and his friend, Archbishop Tutu — who was receiving a humanitarian award from the center — accorded her a respectful berth. They made a formidable collection of wise ones that sunny Atlanta day.

But there was little of Verna in the way of pretense, and she was dismissive of much fuss. She was gracious, charming, inclusive, impeccably mannered, well schooled in tact, and completely comfortable with the diversity of humanity. She was, quite simply, one of the most distinctive individuals who ever rose through the ranks of nursing to soar comfortably in the company of our greatest Canadians.

Officer of the Order of Canada, 1996

Officer of the Order of Canada, 1996

Verna’s importance to the nation was acknowledged with her appointment to Officer rank in the Order of Canada. On her appointment it was noted that she had “played a major role in raising the status of the nursing profession both nationally and internationally” and that her expertise had led to “improved health care in different parts of the world.”

For her life of public service she was presented with both Queen Elizabeth II Silver (1977) and Golden (2002) Jubilee medals by the Governor General, and the Canadian Red Cross Distinguished Service Award. She held the highest honour in Canadian nursing, the Jeanne Mance Award, and received a Centennial award from CNA in 2008. From academia she was conferred honorary doctoral degrees by Queen’s, St. FX, UBC and U of T — and she was named one of the Notable Ninety graduates of the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing on the school’s 90th anniversary in 2010.

After many years working with our federal government and the World Health Organization, in 1968 Verna famously took on the role as our first federal chief nurse, landing her in the midst of the country’s most senior health policy decision makers. She leapt from that role to an eight-year voluntary stint as a vice president of the International Council of Nurses, further cementing her stellar career and presence in global nursing and public health. And of course the 50-country study of government chief nurses she conducted with Dick is now the stuff of legend.

So yes, she was amazingly accomplished. And yes, in many ways, she was truly a giant; the examples here just hint at the impact of a massive, global career. And let’s not forget that she took on another 30 years of mentoring, networking, researching and teaching starting in 1985, after she retired.

But celebrated as she was, Verna was of course a real, ordinary and extraordinary human being.

She was fun and funny. Her humour could be subtle and as dry as dust — but she could also giggle like a girl. Her laugh forced her eyes closed and her face could turn from deep concern to jumping joy in an instant.

She had mastered the Spock eyebrow raise of concern or surprise.

She defined the notion of twinkle in the eye — and it could be hard to tell sometimes if that twinkle was inquisitive, teasing or laughing. She had a highly mischievous look about her at times.

Verna was generous with her time, intellect, energy and money, and she received generosity back with love, thanks and real appreciation.

She gave praise with sincerity. When she said, “Dick and I are just so proud of…” the recipient knew that was real. From them it meant something.

She was educated, articulate, hard working, principled and incredibly politically astute.

Verna was quiet and discreet — but she took no prisoners and she really respected intelligent, thoughtful people. She didn’t have a lot of time for silliness or disrespect.

Verna was infuriated with the dismantling of the former RNABC, and not afraid to say so or to ask tough questions in public ways. She put her name and money on the line in the fight to maintain a professional association in British Columbia. And while she supported the importance of the family of nursing organizations that support nurses, she was clear that, first and foremost, strong professional nursing advocacy and representation must be housed in strong professional nursing associations. End of story.

She hosted amazing cocktail parties and dinners at which she always included any nurses visiting Vancouver, not to mention a dazzling array of Canadian and global celebrities from many fields over the years. More correctly, she and Dick hosted those events together, because rarely did any sentence she uttered start without three important words: “Dick and I.”

Verna and Dick, 2014

Verna and Dick, 2014

During her WHO work as a nurse leader in the Caribbean, Verna befriended another famous nurse who studied at the University of Toronto — Dame Nita Barrow, who went on to be the first woman candidate for the presidency of the United Nations and later served as Governor General of her home country of Barbados. Verna travelled in some lofty circles. But the most novice student nurse was greeted with the same loving welcome at the Splane’s front door as the celebrated Dame Nita or the political elite here in Canada.

“Dick and I thought we’d have a little drinks party,” she’d offer. In the warm surroundings of their beautiful home at UBC, Verna greeted admirers and kept conversations going; Dick always wore a shirt and jacket, mixed great drinks and was her thoughtful co-investigator, asking probing questions about every topic. They were masterful tag-team referees of deep conversations tackling the implications of all strategic options for moving forward to ensure optimal success on any policy initiative.

Few gatherings were purely social; there would always be a professional opportunity for time with an important leader that “Dick and I thought you should meet.” She was a marvelous networker and connector. And in even the most social get-together, Verna might say “there are two or three things on my agenda I wanted to ask you about.”

“Dick and I thought we’d have lunch outside,” she would say at the cottage in Eastern Ontario, where they also invited nurses and other intimate and professional friends on the regional, national and global scene. A “casual lunch outside” with the Splanes could mean a roasted chicken on china plates, with a white tablecloth gentle flapping in the afternoon breeze under shade trees by the water. Not exactly the typical cottage hotdog set!

A dinner inside was just as wonderful: “Dick and I thought we’d have some tapas and open some good wine.” What 90-year-old white lady says that?! Verna Splane did, standing casually before the framed Orders of Canada and other honours mounted over the fireplace as the loons called out across the lake.

Verna was masterful at the leadership game and she knew just how to work a room. She had a fierce awareness of herself developed over many decades. But as she moved past 90, she was also living with some failing body parts, including her eyes and ears. But no mind; she handled her early sensory losses beautifully so no one would even know. She could be totally disarming, even to the point of seating herself dead centre on a small coffee table, framed by the fireplace behind it, wearing a completely black outfit and a perfect set of pearls, putting her hands down flat on the table on either side of her body, and with the intoxicating subtlety of Bacall seducing Bogie, leaning forward to look directly at a guest and say slowly, with that voice none of us will ever forget, “So tell me, how are you?”

She was radiant. And she was casually in total control of herself and the room in the most restrained way. It was delicious to witness, as her admirers can attest. And many visits were master classes in leadership, if not just decorum and diplomacy. She was in her 90s then, and she was brilliant. And of course beyond being able to charm the snow off a snowman, she could see and hear better because she was closer to her visitors sitting in that central position.

2012 Garden Party

2012 Garden Party

Verna loved being around nurses, especially novices, but in truth anyone who expressed an interest in nursing, health care, humanity at large, and above all, in public policy, was invited into the fold. For decades she mentored groups of loyal younger nurses working around the world who would gather for conversation, story telling and advice at the university or at the Splane home.

When Dick and Verna hosted a huge and elegant outdoor cocktail party on Allison Road in June 2012 for the board of the Canadian Nurses Association and the chairs and members of the National Expert Commission, her older friends and colleagues stood by like an honour guard of watchful sisters. They were there to bolster her and they did. Others surrounded Dick and kept him company so she could hold court. But not for long; soon he was beside her like always.

Students and young nurses lined up anxiously to have their pictures taken with Dick and Verna like they were with rock stars.

And those of us somewhere in middle age looked on with pride and gratitude just to enjoy a tiny part of those special lives and the whole scene. What a privilege.

That night, Verna said quietly, “this is it, there will be no more public events,” explaining that at 97 she was feeling tired and wanted to turn over those duties to those of us a generation or more behind. There was to be no major speech that warm June evening, but deliver one she did, sharing gracious, loving, and humorous comments that, as ever, championed nurses, the CNA, and her beloved professional association in British Columbia — then rising as the new ARNBC. And whether intentional or not, she bade a public farewell to nurses and to what she said had been “a wonderful life and a wonderful career full of these events.”

ARNBC Lifetime Membership

ARNBC Lifetime Membership 2013

In the end there would be one final public celebration at the house, in April 2013, for ARNBC leaders and members after they awarded Verna with a life membership on her 98th birthday — a quarter century after receiving the RNABC Award of Merit (1987). She was deeply honoured by that gesture, and to the end last week, was a fierce defender of the importance of professional associations to nursing in British Columbia and Canada at large.

Verna embodied the sort of gracious and mannered style that in some ways seemed out of step with the frenzied career and world around her. She was relentlessly busy, but carried herself with a grace and pace that felt relaxed, caring and considerate of those around her. A timeless lesson perhaps in the incalculable currency of a great education, a good set of pearls, the love of a great glass of wine, a terrific partner, and a keen, observant mind.

Today in Vancouver, prayers will be offered and tears shed said for Verna — and for her great love, Dick. And rightly so: She was a tremendous ambassador for nursing within her beloved British Columbia (home for 40 years), across Canada, and around the world. And she was a great wife, neighbour, friend, and honourary mother to many.

She was especially attached to UBC and her network of friends, contemporaries, colleagues and students there. She was so, so proud of the UBC School of Nursing and of British Columbia nurses. She was a powerful inspiration and beacon in Vancouver and our British Columbia colleagues will especially mourn her loss today.

In conjunction with CNA’s annual general meeting in Ottawa in June, as a larger profession and a country we will gather to grieve and say goodbye to a great woman who embodied leadership in all she did across some 70 years of nursing.

It will no doubt be said that, “she will always be with us.” Fair enough, but many of us will really miss her gentle physical presence. Great love and great people deserve great grieving, and for all those who were privileged to experience her unforgettable personal touch, integrating the reality of this loss will take a little time.

For all sorts of reasons, we will not see her like again. She was a class act and of a certain time, and she never went out of style. What a gift to British Columbia, to UBC, to Canada and the world.

Verna was indeed our gentle giant. She insisted that while we always have our eyes on those we serve, we must also look up and out at the larger world around us. So look up – look waaaay up. She will be there, like always, watching, smiling, and expecting nothing less than the best from us all.

mikevABOUT MICHAEL VILLENEUVE, RN

Michael Villeneuve is a lecturer in the Master of Nursing, Health Systems Leadership and Administration program at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto. Sincere thanks to Dr. Sally Thorne, professor at the University of British Columbia School of Nursing for her loving contributions to this reflection.

B.C.’s Flu Shot Policy for Healthcare Providers: it just makes sense, by Hannah Varto, NP

This year again the BC Ministry of Health has mandated that all healthcare providers must receive the influenza vaccine and if they choose not to, they must wear a mask for the duration of flu season whilst providing patient care. I applaud this decision and am frustrated by some of my colleagues who argue against science and common sense. Let’s examine some of the arguments.

Point 1: Flu kills.  It doesn’t tend to kill healthy people. I could care less if I personally get the flu but I care a lot if some nurse or doctor gives my elderly grandmother the flu and she becomes very sick (or worse).  I care a lot if some family doctor, NP or public health nurse gives my two week old baby the flu during a home visit. Flu kills our young, our elderly and our sick. It really is that simple. And these are the people we have agreed to take care of.

Point 2:  “I’ll stay home from work if I get the flu”. Great thinking….but you’ve already spread the virus before you even knew you had the flu.  Most flus and colds work that way. You’re spreading it before you have any symptoms.  Why should I have to cover for your sickness at work?  I took personal responsibility for my health and the health of my patients and co-workers to prevent getting sick but I’m supposed to cover for you because you didn’t? Thanks. Why should your employer and taxpayers have to pay more because you didn’t take responsibility for your own health? Something seems pretty unfair about that.

Point 3: Mandated vaccines. We are already mandated to get a vaccine, it’s called Hepatitis B. When healthcare providers are accepted into their schools and training programs and when we’re hired we are asked to prove we’ve had hepatitis B vaccine and also that our level of protection is adequate. So, we’re already mandated to get a vaccination because of our chosen profession. This isn’t new. Why is flu vaccine different? Why aren’t we crying “human rights” about Hepatitis B, Tetanus and MMR vaccines too?

Point 4: TB Skin testing.  Read point 3…same thing for TB Skin testing.  The fact is that healthcare providers have agreed to care for our most vulnerable populations and this includes a personal responsibility to do our best not to bring additional disease and infection to our patients.

Point 5: Shoddy science and “Big Pharma”.  Healthcare providers who are citing out of date, scare tactic “research” just to support their points need to check their professional commitment to evidence based practices. I look to the science, the evidence and the experts.  Conspiracy theorists abound and it’s difficult to sort through the rhetoric on both sides. Who should be making these vaccines instead of pharmaceutical companies? I would love nothing more than to have self-sacrificing scientists who are barely paid a living wage come up with amazing scientific breakthroughs. This isn’t happening in Canada. It’s a problem. But it doesn’t mean that the scientists who are working for pharmaceutical companies are all corrupt and out to kill and maim people. Our government has a vested interest in keeping the population healthy and out of emergency rooms.

Point 6: Only a few strains are covered. Sure, flu vaccine might only be 40% effective and only protect against two strains – but it’s better than 0%.  It’s the best we have for now.  We have a vaccine for hepatitis A and B but not for C so does that mean I won’t take Hep A and B vaccines?  If I took this logic into any other harm reduction strategy, my credibility could be called into question. This argument is like not wearing a bicycle helmet because it only protects my head – but I still might fall and break my arm.

Point 7: Safety.  I’ve been involved in flu vaccine campaigns for more than 12 years now.  I have yet to see a reaction more serious than redness at the injection site or a sore arm.  But, because I also don’t support anecdotal evidence as actual scientific evidence I look to the research.  It supports my observation.  Rare reactions (which can happen with any food or drug) do occur but at such super low rates you’d be more likely to win the lottery first.

Point 8: Getting the flu from the flu vaccine. Read up on first year immunology. Flu vaccine is an inactivated vaccine. It cannot infect you with the flu.  It simply stimulates an immune response.  Now, this being said, there are a lot of anecdotes about people getting the flu right after getting the vaccine. The fact is, you have a different strain or you were already infected before you got the shot.  Just as you don’t get hepatitis B from the hepatitis B vaccine, you don’t get flu from flu vaccine…but wait, even if you did, I thought you said you didn’t mind getting the flu?

Point 9: Human Rights and Bullying.  Ok, so yes, you as a Canadian, have a right to your decision-making about your own healthcare.  No problem with me.  Your employer and patients also have a right to ask you to protect those around you and stay healthy in order to work. I wear gloves during procedures because it protects me and the patient. I change the gloves to protect the patients, not me. I don’t ever need to change gloves to protect myself…but I do, because I know it’s important to protect my patients. Don’t like these policies?  Feel free to go work somewhere else or chose a different career.  Feel free to go work where the elderly, young and sick are happy to have the flu.  Just let me know where you’re going….because I’ll be going the other way and taking my family with me.

Unfortunately, the logic and evidence is unlikely to change the minds of those people who are staunchly against flu vaccine. It makes me sad that they are closed to logical arguments and so entrenched in poor science, conspiracy theory and anecdotal evidence that they are willing to put the lives of their patients at risk. This winter, I’ll be wearing my “Flu Sticker” on my employee badge with pride.  It shows that I care about the people around me.  It shows that I care about my health.  It shows that I support evidence based practice. I will stand united in herd immunity to decrease the spread of the flu this year.  It’s part of my job, my career, my profession and my humanity.

HannahVartoABOUT HANNAH VARTO, MN, NP(F)

Hannah Varto is a family nurse practitioner and an ARNBC Network Lead. She enjoys working as a part of interdisciplinary teams of health care providers. Her career focus has been primarily in the field of sexual and reproductive health, specific to women and adolescent populations. She has worked in a variety of settings including public health, youth clinics, walk-in clinics, telehealth, education, travel medicine, communicable disease and as a sexual assault nurse examiner. Hannah is on the board of directors for the McCreary Centre Society, a leading non-profit organization focusing on adolescent health research. Currently Hannah is leading the implementation of ARNBC’s first community of practice – the BC Contraceptive Management Community of Practice.

What do I walk with? by Wendy Bowles, NP

Listening to Kathy Bird, an icon in the world of Aboriginal Nursing in Canada and keynote speaker at the Winnipeg A.N.A.C. Conference, my attention was captured as she began talking about her lived experience – her history as an Aboriginal woman, both as a nurse and a medicine woman. She spoke of her “bundle” of medicine in almost the same breath as her past in residential school; these were the things with which she walks, through life, through her practice, through her learning. It made me wonder, what do I walk with?

I found myself without an answer. In my practice and in my life, I am often walking so fast I don’t know with what I am walking. I used to know, but lately it seems I’ve forgotten. Where does my knowledge lie? I am not an Aboriginal woman, but I wondered, “Can I learn through this amazing woman in front of me?” Kathy went on to describe her life learning – how she found or was found by a medicine man willing to share his knowledge, to pass it to her along with the responsibility to use it and pass it beyond herself. Have I done that? Who have I gained my knowledge through? And have I been passing it on with awareness of that transfer, and with awareness of the responsibility of that transfer?

Initially I started to worry I had missed something very important, but then as I slowed down and listened to the beautiful song Kathy and the other Aboriginal nurses were singing, I remembered. I remembered that I do walk with something that was once very profound to me. Something that has become so much a part of me I’ve forgotten to recognize it. By forgetting I realize that I am in danger of being irresponsible in the practice and transfer of that knowledge. When we forget where we have come from and how we have achieved our knowledge, it becomes very difficult to pass on.

My grounding, my “medicine” is in my nursing theory and the experts that have guided my practice. Once I did not know what theory was or how it affected practice, but then I found a nursing theory which changed and solidified my practice. Within this theory I had found something that allowed me to be the practitioner I wanted to be, rather than the one I was struggling to realize every day. I realized my grounding is also in experts, and there have been many, each one having given me another building block to my knowledge, another piece of my own medicine bag. Sometimes this knowledge was handed to me directly, but more often it came to me indirectly through observation or informal discussion. Regardless, it was rich and valuable knowledge, no matter how I came to own it.

Each time a piece of knowledge came to me, it was like finding my own medicine man who wanted me to ground myself while remaining open to gaining the knowledge I would need to understand what heals people – and assist them, in whatever way worked for them. This was not about me, it was about being present, being open, being knowledgeable and recognizing and accepting paradoxes. Accepting that there is no one right answer, no correct way was also important.

Being open means using all of our senses to learn and perform “medicine”. I had incorporated this into who I am as a nurse so completely I had forgotten it was what I walked with, and in doing so almost forgot to acknowledge it.

I will not be so careless again. Kathy has given me a great gift – the gift of remembering who I am and what that means to those around me and to myself. It is with this gift that I will go forward and build on the transfer of that knowledge. As I move into a new role, one in which I hope to be a voice, a mentor and gatherer of knowledge and information, I will be conscious of knowledge transfer as well as acquisition of new knowledge.

We are all in different stages of learning, of healing and only by being present and truly listening can I honour what has given me so much and has allowed me to gain so much from those I have worked with, have cared for and been cared for by. Oh and the last thing I learned; never make a promise in a sweat lodge you don’t intend to keep!

ABOUT WENDY BOWLES, NP

wendyWendy began nursing in 1991 and has worked primarily in acute care with a focus on vascular diseases and wound care. Her career has also her into the community, including a northern exposure which was challenging and educational. She has had opportunities to teach and program plan in a variety of settings including high acuity, wound care, and nursing programs. These experiences have given her a multifaceted view of health care and nursing and led to her decision to enhance her advanced practice by completing her Nurse Practitioner degree. Wendy’s recent practice has been in acute care, with a focus on cardiac surgery and care of the frail elderly.

Wendy is an active member of the Canadian and International Societies for Vascular Nurses, the Venous Diseases Foundation, the Canadian Association of Wound Care, the Association for the Advancement of Wound Care, Canadian Cardiovascular Nurses Association, BC Lymphedema Society and the Society for Vascular Medicine.

 

Canadian Nurses Association Lobby Day on Parliament Hill: Insights on Nursing as a Political Act

Have you ever had one of those days where you said to yourself “If I had the opportunity to go to Ottawa, I’d tell those politicians how to fix our health care system”? Well, that is just what happened for five nurses from B.C. who were part of the Canadian Nurses Association annual “day on the hill” lobby opportunity on November 25th, 2014. These nurses included two current CNA board members; Julie Fraser, B.C. jurisdictional representative and Jocelyne Reimer–Kent, Specialty Network representative; as well as three nurses selected as CNA board observers for the November meeting, Zak Matieschyn, Joy Peacock and 4th year nursing student Jessy Dame. The following insights are from the nurses who participated in this extraordinary event.

From left: Barb Shellian, CNA President Elect; Zak Matieschyn, ARNBC President Elect; Julie Fraser, ARNBC President; Karima Velji, CNA President; Joy Peacock, ARNBC Executive Director; Jocelyn Reimer-Kent, CNA Board Member; Jessy Dame, BSN Student; Anne Sutherland Boal, CNA CEO

From left: Barb Shellian, CNA President Elect; Zak Matieschyn, ARNBC President Elect; Julie Fraser, ARNBC President; Karima Velji, CNA President; Joy Peacock, ARNBC Executive Director; Jocelyn Reimer-Kent, CNA Board Member; Jessy Dame, BSN Student; Anne Sutherland Boal, CNA CEO

Julie Fraser, President ARNBC

“The energy the morning of the day was palpable – the nurses going to lobby spent the afternoon and evening prior brushing up on our key “asks”. We arrived on parliament hill focused on creating change through arranged 30 min meetings with selected members of parliament. CNA President Karima Velji started the day with powerful comments in a pre-event with the Health Minister, many members of Parliament and the CNA board members and observers. Karima expressed the opportunities to create access and quality in our health care system by establishing national standards for home care. She shared powerful statistics – 75% of Canadians think it’s important to be able to age at home with access to health care in the home setting and that same amount agree there is an enhanced role of nurses in delivering health care to seniors in the home setting. Federal Health Minister, Rona Ambrose, expressed how she appreciated the specific “asks” from CNA and the partnership with the new Health Innovations working group and HEAL (Health Action Lobby). The results of the day may be hard to technically quantify, but there were impacts. 25 nurses gained valuable experience on the “how to-s” of lobbying that can be used within our provinces and territories. Many members of parliament heard the message that #homeishealth, but with needed design and resources. Most importantly, nursing was seen at the national level as an informed politically astute profession, caring about the health of Canadians and the way we spend our health care dollars.”

Jocelyne Reimer–Kent, CNA Specialty Network Board Member

“The “Hill Day” was a great opportunity to meet with members of parliament and discuss issues pertinent to CNA. The focus this year was on home health and seniors. I met with The Honourable Joyce Murray Member of Parliament (MP) for the electoral district of Vancouver Quadra, which she has represented in the House of Commons as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada since 2008.

MP Murray was keenly interested in CNA’s issues and also gave an open invitation to nurses to attend a monthly breakfast speaker series that she hosts “MP Breakfast Connections” on Friday mornings at Enigma Restaurant (4397 W 10th Ave, Vancouver, BC). These meetings are non-partisan and designed to provide an accessible networking forum and opportunity to learn and engage in current policy issues (https://remote.fraserhealth.ca/+CSCOE+/portal.html). Most issues have health implications so please feel free to join in this gathering and bring the voice of nursing to the fore.

With a federal election on the horizon I would encourage each and every nurse to speak with their MP. As nurses we are the most trusted healthcare provider but we also have untapped power that is ours to release.”

Jessy Dame, 4th year Thompson Rivers University Nursing Student

“Starting the day off with a bang is an understatement for how Karima Velji, the 46th President of CNA, welcomed attendees during breakfast on Parliament Hill. The welcoming speech spoke to the major topic of the day #HomeisHealth and how patients’ outcomes could be much higher if individuals stayed at home. Through this experience, I was able to obtain communication skills with government officials, learn insights on the lobbying process, increase my understanding of the Member of Parliaments (MP) role, as well as, acquire a taste for how the different political parties valued topics that nurses brought forward. Though I felt prepared to enter the rooms of the MPs, my insecurities of being a student were still present. These insecurities often lead me to introduce myself as a “just a student nurse”. This introduction quickly got the attention of my passionate mentor who then lead me to the realization of the importance of my role as a student nurse and that I am not just a student nurse, I am a future nurse and my role is just as important. The group I worked with was amazing and provided me with the inspiration to come home and continue expressing the importance of CNA’s three main asks and #HomeisHealth. My motivational gas tank has been refueled and I cannot wait to start driving my own car (My Own practice).”

Joy Peacock, Executive Director ARNBC

“Nursing is a political act. The privilege of being a registered nurse and representing our profession on Parliament Hill is something I will always hold close to my heart. Nursing is about making a difference. Attending “Hill Day” in Ottawa with CNA is one way to demonstrate advocacy in action, through collaborative leadership. I know we made a difference. I know together we will continue to make a positive difference.”

Zak Matieschyn, President Elect ARNBC 

“My first experience with the work of Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) was illuminating. For so much of my nursing career it existed as something vague, abstract and far-removed from my own nursing practice – both geographically and functionally. This all changed in the last week of November 2014 when I had my first introduction as an observer with our B.C. jurisdiction.

It was an opportune time to dip my toe into CNA activities – not only was there the annual day on Parliament Hill, but as well there was significant strategic planning undertaken to chart the course of the association over the next five years. I cannot overstate the level of sophistication present within this organization. Even the physical space of the ‘CNA House’ building emanates a solidness of history and wisdom – no doubt as a result of being filled with many of the great Canadian nursing leaders over the decades. That tradition continues to this day as I found myself struck by the depth of knowledge and experience I witnessed when observing the board explore issues, consider opposing points of view, and develop innovative solutions to very challenging problems.

Equally exciting was our day on Parliament Hill. Our large group was divided into 10 groups of four people and we were assigned to three unique MPs to speak with. The brilliant strategists at the CNA had developed three well thought out and specific ‘asks’ in the realm of home care and seniors’ health for us to pitch. We engaged with members from government as well as opposition parties. I can say my personal experience was one of excitement to offer evidence-informed policy solutions (an area in which nursing is well versed) to some of the complex health care problems of our times.

hillday

Joy Peacock, ARNBC Executive Director; The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health; Julie Fraser, ARNBC President; Jessy Dame, BSN Student

All in all, I felt my passion for nursing further renewed. I look forward to my future involvement with the CNA in the coming years as British Columbia’s jurisdictional representative. Nursing is, and will continue to be, a leader in health care in Canada.”

13 million Canadians will be providing some type of care to family members or friends with age related needs (CNA, 2014). Therefore, the advocacy work around home care continues for the nurses of B.C. at both the provincial and municipal levels. Although Health Care falls within the federal jurisdiction, we understand that the key implementation decisions occur at the provincial level. Nurses have the solutions to transform health care and will continue to do this to improve the health of the individuals we serve, our families and communities. We welcome stories of your own advocacy and lobby efforts as responses to this blog.

Canadian Nurses Association (2014). Health Begins at Home. http://www.cna-aiic.ca/en/news-room/news-releases/2014/health-begins-at-home-says-canadian-nurses-and-citizens-alike

Spare Some Change? by Jess Shannon, BSN Student

I run into a consistent portrait every time I head to the bank in Courtenay. A person in borrowed clothing with a head bowed in shame asks, “Can you spare some change?”

I wonder, “How can a person like me… a citizen in a democratic society filled with opportunity who eats three meals a day and can afford tuition to start a career, not spare some time to consider what other ways I can help?” Vancouver Island is not untouched from the epidemic of homelessness that rages in urban centres like Vancouver.  To date we count 300 homeless persons with an additional 3,000 at-risk individuals, right here in the Comox Valley.

A year and half ago, I was beginning my third year of nursing school. I was overwhelmed with writing papers and exhausted after my clinical rotations. My social life was taking a backseat and I felt like my life was consumed with school. One day as I was rushing to class, I noticed an advertisement for an ARNBC network meeting posted on the classroom door. My previous experience participating in committees has been disappointing with much debate occurring about issues, but rarely any action resulting from the discussion.  I hesitated, but in the end my curiosity got the best of me.

At the first meeting, I was surprised by the number of nurses present. I soon learned that the Comox Valley ARNBC Network is home to nurses from a variety of backgrounds who have taken an active leadership role in promoting positive change in the health of our local community.  Our group represents nurses working with mental health and addictions, nurse practitioners, BSN faculty and students, nurses from the local nursing centre, new graduates, and Care-A-Van/street nursing, to name a few.

During the meeting, I was flooded with the feeling that I had finally found a group of people who cared about their community and nursing issues, and who addressed serious community concerns with the intent to do something about it.  I felt inspired and invigorated.

Within the first year of attending network meetings, some of the members expressed concerns about the issue of homelessness and lack of supportive and affordable housing in the Comox Valley. As a group, we collectively identified the need to explore systemic barriers experienced by low-income and homeless individuals, and questioned how we could be involved as agents of change. We discussed how social determinants impact health, specifically homelessness and lack of housing, and agreed that nurses need to educate the general public and our local political leaders about the seriousness of the current housing deficiency for at-risk populations.

This meeting led to the development of our ARNBC Network sub-committee, which we call the Political Action Committee (PAC). That night a few core members volunteered to participate in the new initiative. I immediately felt compelled to join them, but I was nervous and unsure of myself – how could I, a third-year nursing student, possibly affect change in health and social policy?  How could I make a difference?

I didn’t volunteer to join that night, but when I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about PAC’s intention. I wanted to learn about health policy and how nurses could participate in tackling something big like homelessness.  It boiled down to social justice. I couldn’t face another trip to the bank with the knowledge that I had the power to make a change for the person sitting on those steps: it was my responsibility to do something.

So, with much trepidation, I emailed the co-lead of our ARNBC network and volunteered.  After I sent the email, I fretted that I had made a bad decision – that the more experienced nurses might think I was being presumptuous and naïve.

Either way, I pulled up my socks and headed to the first PAC meeting.  I sat at the conference table surrounded by a group of very politically experienced nurses: individuals who established the first nursing centre in Canada, experienced nurse educators, a nurse who started a street nursing Care-A-Van, a mental health nurse eloquently versed in local politics, and a nurse practitioner experienced in health policy development. And then there was me, a student. “This is going to be embarrassing,” I thought.

But I stayed and listened.  I was completely shocked that none of the other nurses seemed surprised that I was there.  They all welcomed me like a colleague, and included me in the discussions and decision-making.  I left that meeting feeling like I had come home.  I was fully aware of my lack of experience, but I knew I wanted to be around these political powerhouses, and learn from these nurses who have already moved mountains.

Within a year, PAC had morphed and grown into a group of experienced nurses who were passionate about social justice.  The timing was right; the municipal elections were arriving in November and we wanted our message about homelessness and supportive housing to be heard by the public and local council members.  We knew there would be a question put to voters asking them how much they would be willing to contribute in taxes to ending homelessness.

We began collaborating with a social planning society who had similar goals about addressing the supportive-housing crisis. We brainstormed ways to inform the general public, and made plans about approaching local politicians. We had momentum, but we were experiencing difficulty in moving forward with a clear strategy.

Around this time, we learned that ARNBC had developed a pilot project for an issues workshop.  Our committee could participate in the pilot, which would help us develop clear strategies and a strong nursing voice to help address important health policy issues.  At the same time, we could provide ARNBC with feedback on how to strengthen the workshop so it could be rolled out to other nursing groups.  We couldn’t believe our luck; this was exactly what we needed to move forward.

PAC jumped on the opportunity and participated in the workshop. Following the session, we achieved astronomical strides in developing communication strategies to inform the general public and our local politicians about the housing crisis. We learned how to succinctly explain the importance of this issue in a way that would gain attention, and developed plans to keep this issue at the forefront of local politics.  We developed information strategies for the recent election, using the format of a community flyer, an inter-agency letter, and a health policy brief for elected council members.

When I first enrolled in nursing school, I had a romantic vision that I would pursue a career healing the sick as a sort of local Florence Nightingale. Nursing and politics together never crossed my mind.  Throughout my experience with PAC, I’ve learned that issues such as social justice, leadership, health promotion, and accountability are attributes of nursing that are essential to provide safe client care for everyone; in the society we live in, nursing and politics are not mutually exclusive.  When nurses identify social justice issues within our hospitals, clinics, and community at large, we can inform the public about positive changes that can be made.  It is also our responsibility as nurses to lobby our local governments in order to make those changes a reality.

Oh – our efforts paid off.  During the Municipal Election, voters were asked “How much annual property tax would you be willing to pay to reduce homelessness?”

The results:

  • 4425 – $0
  • 3657 – Up to $5 per year (for a home assessed at $300,000)
  • 6860 – Up to $10 per year (for a home assessed at $300,000)

ARNBC’s November Tweetchat will discuss political action and nursing with Jess and other members of the Comox Valley ARNBC Network.  Join us on Twitter, November 27 from 11-12pm!

jess2ABOUT JESS SHANNON

Jess Shannon is a 4th year BSN student at North Island College.  She has been an active member and is now a co-lead with the Comox Valley ARNBC network.  Over the past year, she has been participating in the development of an ARNBC Political Action Sub-Committee (PAC) in the Comox Valley, with a core group of politically motivated nurses who are passionate about addressing the issue of homelessness and lack of supportive housing in the region.  Upon graduation, Jess would like to find employment within her local community, integrating attributes of social justice and nurse leadership within her work, and is considering pursuing a graduate degree in public health and social policy.