Brock prepares future nurses for challenges in the field

It was a dream Sierra Smith began nurturing at the age of four with the premature birth of her younger sister.

Her sibling’s diagnosis of hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy meant the family made many visits to Toronto’s SickKids Hospital over the years. And during that time, it was always nurses who provided the comfort and stability the family badly needed, Smith recalls.

“It was the nurse who came in multiple times and answered my mom and dad’s questions or gave me a colouring book to keep me occupied,” she says. “I thought, ‘I really want to do that job.’”

On Wednesday, May 11, Smith was among 105 soon-to-be graduates who received their pins in Brock’s annual Pinning Ceremony, a tradition harkening back to the days of Florence Nightingale’s efforts to recognize nurses’ training and welcome them into the profession.

Smith is taking everything she learned at Brock to her new nursing job — at SickKids.

“I feel so thankful for my education at Brock and I’m very excited to start my career,” she says.

It may seem like a tough time to launch a nursing career, with frequent reports of nurses being undervalued, exhausted and leaving the profession in droves.

“We’re in a period where you can barely go a day without hearing about nursing in the news,” says Department of Nursing Chair Karyn Taplay. “It highlights things in the profession that are challenging.

“It brings to light the urgency of the lack of nurses that we have regionally, nationally and globally,” she says. “We’ve been saying for a long time we need more nurses and now it’s starting to be heard.”

Taplay says Brock University has “answered the call” by expanding the Nursing program to bring in “more nurses than we have ever brought in before.”

Associate Professor of Nursing Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy’s career spans 40 years. She agrees the challenges being highlighted today have always existed but haven’t received the spotlight they’ve experienced in recent times.

One unwavering aspect of the profession that has never changed, she says, is that nurses are the integral, vibrant “conduit” to a strong health-care system.

“The nurse-client relationship is the essence of humanity seen in its full form, in whatever stage of health, wellness, illness or death,” says O’Keefe-McCarthy.

Core to that concept — and foundational to Brock’s Nursing program — is that nursing involves much more than just mastering and applying the technical skills to bring about healing. It’s all about relationship building — a topic Elizabeth Orr covers extensively in her first-year Nursing course.

“What we really focus on in nursing is creating that family-centred or individualized care plan, where you really get to know the strengths of the patient and the family,” says the Assistant Professor of Nursing, who is also a pediatric nurse.

Orr says the pandemic has highlighted several “silver linings” to the nursing profession.

There’s much greater awareness of the many public health roles and activities nurses conduct outside of the hospital, she says, with nurses “finding their voice” to advocate for themselves and their role in the health system.

Orr, Taplay and O’Keefe-McCarthy note how nurses have further expanded their skill sets by having to master social media and new technologies and procedures.

Smith describes her experience working with a technology called ‘Angel Eye’ in the neonatal ward at South Lake Regional Health Centre during her pre-graduation clinical placement at the height of COVID.

“A lot of parents couldn’t come in, so we had iPads and phones and we were sending them pictures throughout the day or doing FaceTimes to keep parents in contact, because it’s not easy for parents not to be able to visit their babies,” she says.

In Brock’s Nursing program, students are exposed to technologies and procedures in safe learning environments, says Taplay.

The labs simulate situations including pediatric asthma, palliative care and medical emergencies, such as cardiac or respiratory arrest, as well as many others.

Smith says these simulations enabled her and her peers to ask questions and explore in a supportive environment.

She is bringing to her new job a commitment to viewing the patient as a whole person.

“As a nurse, you need to learn skills like inserting an IV and giving medications, but you also need to know how to speak with somebody and how to listen to them,” Smith says. “It’s always those little moments that we were always taught are really important to build those relationships.”

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