Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born in southern Alberta in a small town named Carmangay. We settled in Champion. My dad worked in the oil patch managing the fields so we moved a lot. We left Champion when I was 5 and much of my extended family were still there so we never lost touch with that area. We were everywhere from northern Alberta to southern Saskatchewan. We didn’t like the north at all and my dad stayed in the oil industry before getting a different job and coming to Calgary. We landed here with my parents and sister when I was 14.
Q: What brought you to Calgary?
A: My sister got sick and we had to come to Calgary for her treatment. We moved to Happy Valley which was a big entertainment campground complex and is now Valley Ridge. It used to be two large campgrounds and a golf course, restaurant, mini-golf, go-karts. My dad started working security and ended up managing the complex. I worked there as well. That was my summer, winter, morning and evening job. I guided trail rides and had a business running hay rides and sleigh rides. I can harness, hitch and drive a team of horses. I was also the voluntary first aid responder. If there was an injury they’d say, lets go get Viola.
Q: What led to your interest in nursing?
A: I was 6 years old and in grade two when I was asked by my teacher what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I was going to be a nurse. My family has always been a helping group. My dad drove ambulance for a couple of years in southern Alberta. My great grandmother was a midwife. She delivered a hundred-and-something babies in southern Alberta. In those days midwives did not just deliver, they moved in with and looked after the family so that the mother could rest, bond, breastfeed, and generally get settled. My sister passed away of Ewings Sarcoma three years after moving to Calgary. I thought I wanted to be a pediatric nurse after everything we went through and my dad told me to wait until we had recovered. It was really good advice. I might not of been able to tolerate a hospital environment right away. I waited to start nursing until I was 26. I went to Mount Royal.
Q: Where was your first job after graduating nursing school?
A: I did two tours in school in neuroscience at the Calgary General Hospital and they hired me right out of school. I told the manager I wanted to work casually just to get my feet wet and my manager said no no no no no, it’s much better taking a position and just getting in there and doing it. I learned later that their primary motivation was to fill vacant lines but they were quite right; working full time helped me learn my job.
Q: When did you obtain the role of Nurse Clinician?
A: When they found the space at Northland, FMC was once again falling out the windows. The current Nurse Clinician wasn’t interested in opening another unit. She had been the sole clinician working to establish the other sites and I believe she kept our program glued together through all of it. I don’t know how she did it. She liked her job and didn’t want to move so I applied. I was hired two weeks before the unit opened so I could gather up patients and get things organized. It was June of 2005. Sunridge opened a year after us and the Fanning was last.
Q: Talk a bit about your role as a Nurse Clinician at Northwest Hemodialysis?
A: As the Nurse Clinician I’m the charge nurse and clinical leader and I liaise with the rest of the Member It’s all outpatient so we do a lot of community type work. I monitor the schedule and designate patient assignments based on skill mix and experience. We have a whole interdisciplinary team and it’s my job to refer them when appropriate. Our empathy project is based on symptom management and is about how to involve patients, draw key information, and apply it to their care. We have questionnaires and provide education on things like sleep hygiene or itchiness. We have a “K” protocol to help manage potassium within a certain range. We have the amputation prevention project which is aimed at providing quality foot care. We utilize a patient rounds tool which is used as a nursing communication tool and to help guide conversations with the physician. It succinctly condenses information in one place so we can determine what the patient needs and it better utilizes the physician’s time. It ensures continued and timely follow up. Our clinician team meets once a month at FMC on Unit 27. The clinicians in the outlying areas join by Telehealth. It fosters program collaboration and minimizes isolation.
Q: Why is the union important to you?
A: I am a nurse. That’s all I am. I happen to be registered right now but I will never not be a nurse. Patient centred care has been the nursing philosophy since Florence Nightingale. As nurses, we don’t exist without the people we care for and I don’t think we can do our job without a union. We are required to advocate for our patients within a very large system. We need a feeling of safety that we’re not putting our careers and families at risk by standing up for the patients. We can be advocates because the union advocates for us. Without that support we can’t do our jobs. Because the union has an agreed upon contract that we are to stick with, everybody knows the rights and responsibilities of the roles and can hold people to them. It’s a common language. Heather Smith is a strong leader. I’ve read her articles and listened to her during contract talks. She keeps a clear vision on what the union wants to accomplish. I think she has taken our union from a novice and indistinct group to a strong, consistent and competent organization. I’m with her.
For more on this Member Spotlight please check out our UNA Local 115 Newsletter.