Knowing You Make a Difference in Someone’s Life: Jessica’s Nursing Story

By Abigayle Walker, WorkStory Ambassador at University of Ottawa

Jessica Cuco is a registered nurse at Montreal General Hospital in the Orthopedic and Trauma units. She encounters several different cases from minor to serious injuries and ailments.  Hearing her describe some of her cases, it would be safe to conclude that her job is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart!

Typically, Jessica’s shifts are either 8 or 12 hours long. At the beginning of a shift, she debriefs with the nurse who worked the previous shift to get updates on her patients and to find out what she has to get done.  She then checks her chart for medical orders that need be picked up. After this, Jessica starts her medication run – delivering and administering medication to her patients, as well as checking their vital signs.  Throughout the rest of her shift, she answers call lights, puts patients on bedpans, and gives out pain medication if needed. When her shift comes to a close, she passes her charts on to the next nurse who is clocking in. 

If another nurse calls in sick and is not replaced for the next shift, Jessica either teams up with other nurses on her shift to lighten the load for the next wave of nurses or works overtime to cover the next shift. As one may guess, hospitals have a constant flow of patients whether they are ICU (intensive care unit), emergency room, or post-operative patients. Nurses, like Jessica, are needed around the clock to tend to them. Jessica says that “there are two sides to unusual days.  There are days where it can be extremely busy, where there is no time to sit down for two minutes, and other days where we can sit for most of our shifts.”

Jessica loves knowing that she can make a difference in someone’s life. She says that the best feeling is seeing a patient from the start to finish…”being able to admit the patient and a week or two later being able to send them home or to rehabilitation to continue their care.”  

When asked about the path to her current role, Jessica described it as a long journey, but that she had always known she wanted to work in Healthcare. During high school, she volunteered at one of the local hospitals.  While at Cégep, she decided that she wanted to get a nursing degree.  Jessica did not get into the program right away; instead, she was placed on a waitlist for the intensive program. Happily, she was accepted into the program and studied for 2 years, even throughout the summer months. At the end of her 2 years, Jessica received her DEC (Diplôme d' étude collégiale), allowing her to be a nurse in Quebec.  She worked for another 2 years to gain practical experience in the field, then went back to get her Bachelor of Nursing ­–  studying online and part-time – while still working full-time. She completed her degree in just 3 years. Jessica had explained that going back to school for her degree expanded the opportunities in her nursing career.  For example, she can now be an assistant head nurse or a clinician nurse. For now, Jessica has decided to remain a bedside nurse, but has been thinking of teaching nursing at the Cégep level.

Jessica’s advice for those who are interested in entering the Healthcare profession?  She stresses that one has to have a passion for caring for others. She goes on to say that someone interested in nursing should not limit oneself to a single area of nursing as “there are a lot of different types of nurses out there and there is a fit for everyone”. Some find their fit right away, while “others need to use trial and error when looking for somewhere to work that fits. That is the beauty in nursing: there is a lot of opportunity to expand your learning.” 

Caitlin Schultz’s Journey to a New Area of Healthcare

By Emma Kushnir, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Caitlin Schultz’s career has progressed into something even more exciting than she had originally pictured. She attended Fanshawe College from 2007 to 2010 and studied Respiratory Therapy. This is a three-year program – and the last year is all clinical work. Her placements were at University Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Stratford General Hospital. After her placements ended, Caitlin secured a position as a Respiratory Therapist at University Hospital, and worked there for five years. She also worked at Stratford Hospital and Alexandra Marine & General Hospital, in Goderich, as a Charge Respiratory Therapist. 

Then Caitlin’s journey took a new direction – to a newly created position at London Health Sciences Centre: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Patient Navigator.  COPD is a disease that is 80%-90% caused from smoking and doesn’t typically onset before age 40. As a chronic condition, it can be managed, but not cured. So, patient care is based on disease management and patients need help with that.

Caitlin’s job is to work with COPD patients under the Respirology Service. A big part of her job is teaching patients.  She does patient consultations that involve education about COPD, self-management skills, community resources and discharge readiness.  After patients are discharged from hospital, she continues to follow up with them by phone to ensure smooth transitions.  Since the job is fairly new, and she is the first one to step into the role at London Health Sciences Centre, another big part involves developing projects and new initiatives.  These include things like a connecting-to-home initiative, standardizing education for COPD patients, and creating a clinical pathway for patients to follow. Caitlin is a certified respiratory educator in both asthma and COPD.  In addition to this ­– and her respiratory therapy training – she sees the special skills required for her job are patience and a genuine desire to help people improve their own lives.

Many events and people inspired Caitlin on her journey to this career. When she learned that her younger brother had asthma, and he had to get pulmonary function testing, that is when she learned about respiratory therapy. In Grade 12, she was interested in health care, but didn’t want to become a nurse.  She did some research and got her first glimpse of respiratory therapy. A neighbor worked as a respiratory therapist at Goderich Hospital, and so –  pro tip! – Caitlin job-shadowed him. This proved helpful in choosing to study Respirator Therapy in college and she felt confident and happy in the choice.

After college, the connections and experiences from University Hospital, Goderich Hospital and Stratford General Hospital, helped Caitlin decide exactly what she wanted to do.  In those organizations, she had broad experiences –  everything from acute to chronic disorders, and inpatient to outpatient settings.  When she heard about the job opportunity as a COPD Navigator, she was already doing some COPD education in Stratford – and she realized patient education interested most. It just made sense!

When asked what she loves about the job, Caitlin says that it’s “the change made with the patients, when from start to finish there is visible improvement, and satisfaction from it. It is very rewarding being able to improve patients’  experiences, and engage them in their care, especially when you can see how much more comfortable they are about going home and being at home. You really get to know some of the patients and it is so rewarding being a constant person for them in the hospital. Patients need continuity of care and integration of care.”  She also explains she loves seeing the changes in the hospital, as initiatives start to happen, and witnessing the hospital become more patient focused.

Deciding to drop everything and commit to an environment that was outside of her comfort zone was the biggest challenge in getting to where she is now. Having to give up her other jobs was hard.  Taking a jump in the hope that it would work out was huge. Caitlin had never worked at Victoria Hospital before, and it was a big decision to commute over an hour to work every day.  Further, many things that she is doing now would have intimidated her a while ago – such as all the presentations and public speaking. She worked her way into it slowly, each presentation getting a little bit bigger.

Caitlin’s advice for those interested in healthcare?  “Think outside the box when it comes to health care jobs!  There is a lot more in health care than just the front-line stuff you typically see and hear about – such specialty jobs…Definitely job shadow! You can do research, but it’s hard to know until you get into the action. So any chance you get at seeing things firsthand – take it!” 

The People Side of Kaitlyn’s Story

By Michelle Doyle, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Do you ever watch a trailer or hear an ad on the radio and think to yourself “Who is that voice? Where do they get these people from?”  Wouldn’t it be nifty to have a platform for voices and businesses to connect?  Kaitlyn Apfelbeck is the Human Resources Manager for in London, Ontario–  a global voice talent company that does exactly that!

In her role, Kaitlyn deals with all the people-related matters of the company – “the hiring, the firing, benefits, payroll, compensation, training and development, health & safety, and many other day to day responsibilities that come up.” She finds the best part of her job is the people with whom she gets to work. Even when her work piles up and gets to be a bit overwhelming, she still loves it simply because she’s working in such a fun and supportive environment.

Kaitlyn began her journey at Western University in 2007, where she entered the Bachelor Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS) Finance Program. After just one year, she knew she didn’t love accounting. This wasn’t a matter of her not doing well in the program; in fact, she was actually doing very well. Rather, it was that the human resources (HR) courses that she was taking really intrigued her. In her third year, Kaitlyn decided to follow her interest and transitioned into the HR stream of BMOS.

Although she graduated in April, 2011, Kaitlyn didn’t land her first job until November of that year. This job took quite a bit of networking to land and she was pleased in at St. Joseph’s Health Care London as an HR Assistant on a 6-month contract.   After that, Kaitlyn moved to auto parts manufacturer Takumi Stamping Canada Inc and eased her way up the manufacturing stream – from HR Assistant to HR Specialist in a short 3 years. She explains that it was during this period of time that she learned the bulk of her HR knowledge.  As she puts it (pro tip alert!) “if you ever want to learn HR inside and out, work in manufacturing. It's a very strict environment, and it helped that my manager was chock-full of HR knowledge and experiences. Some of the biggest pieces of HR info I learned was from conversations with my manager.  I was always interested in the previous situations he had found himself in and what he did about them.”

Kaitlyn knew she wanted to move further up and so she continued on her career hunt. It was then that she connected with, and as it seems, she got extremely lucky.  “The stars were aligned for me at that time, because I landed the best job I've had in my entire life!” Kaitlyn explains her love and passion for her job as being a result of truly believing in the industry. She found it much easier to stand behind the company, as well as exert her passion and motivation simply from believing in the company.

Kaitlyn’s advice for those searching for their dream job is to realize that this won’t just happen within the first few years of graduating. “You'll make less money than you thought you would, you'll struggle, and you'll question if you're in the right industry or if you should've taken a different academic path. Trust me–  it's all worth it.”  She also discussed the importance of always trying the best you can, to ensure that previous employers have nothing but good things to say about you.

 “The world is small, and you'll likely run into those previous employers at Costco on more than one occasion – so be pleasant and humble!”

“Cheerleaders in Nearly Every Corner”: Tito’s Story

By Katie Chalmers-Brooks

Photo by: Nardella Photography

Photo by: Nardella Photography

Growing up, Tito Daodu could have easily gotten stuck in a rut by focusing on what she didn’t have: much money or a sense of safety in the rough Winnipeg neighbourhood she called home. Getting dressed in the morning meant being mindful not to wear gang colours.  She had to make sure she walked back quickly to her apartment after school. She was well versed in her classmates’ personal connections to the stories on the six o’clock news—‘the guy arrested for a stabbing was so-and-so’s cousin.’ “All of those things felt close to home,” says Daodu.

So too did everything the 28-year-old doctor feels helped her to succeed. Daodu likens herself to a lottery winner—lucky because she had cheerleaders in nearly every corner. “I had a lot of people in my life who said I could achieve whatever I wanted.” She didn’t see getting into trouble as an option; her Nigerian-born mother made sure of that. Her mom’s voice would override those of her school chums, many of whom saw a trip to Juvenile Detention as a rite of passage. Daodu had bigger plans. And she had mentor Ken Opaleke at West Broadway Youth Outreach to help her on her path. She was in Grade 3 when Opaleke called out to her and her sister, Dupe, from across the street, inviting them to join the neighbourhood’s after-school club. Daodu did and has never really left. “I have had the pleasure of seeing her grow from a shy, energetic, nine year- old participant in the program to a now caring, selfless young woman who a great number of inner-city children have come to emulate and rely on, not only for academic and physical guidance but on a personal level as well,” says Opaleke.

Daodu went from mentee to mentor and launched a homework club at the centre, forming meaningful connections to kids as she helped them through mundane school assignments. Daodu says she would be hard on the kids when they didn’t “try to achieve”, just as Opaleke was hard on her. Daodu went to St. Mary’s Academy on bursaries, steadily inching her way toward university. When she earned her degree in medicine from the University of Manitoba in 2013, more than a dozen West Broadway kids showed up at convocation, rooting for “doctor number 2.” (Daodu is the second West Broadway ‘graduate’ to become a physician.) “Quite a few of them have said, ‘I want to be doctor number 5 or I’m going to be doctor number 7,” says Daodu. “When I go back I try to instill in them that this is totally achievable. I look at those kids and I think ‘I was exactly that kid.’” She is now doing her residency in general surgery in Calgary while chipping away at a master’s in international surgical care.

To Daodu, it makes perfect sense to seek out a problem and then try to be part of the solution. As a med student, she made a cold call to a researcher featured in a documentary about the shockingly high number of pneumonia deaths among children in Nigeria, her native country. “It was staggering to me that 200,000 children under age five die of pneumonia every year. In Canada, it would be unheard of for a child to die of pneumonia without any other complications,” she says. Daodu asked the researcher if she could come to Nigeria and help; he obliged. The hospital featured in the film happened to be the one where Daodu was born. She was just four when her mom left the country, which was then under a dictatorship, with her and her sister. (They lived in Jamaica and England before settling for good in Winnipeg, where Daodu’s uncle could be their sponsor. Her father joined them years later.)

The state of care at the Nigerian hospital shocked Daodu. In the first week, she witnessed the deaths of six children from conditions that could have easily been treated in North America: pneumonia, tetanus and malaria. “I had no idea what widespread, systematic poverty looked like on the ground,” she says. Minimum wage there is a paltry 100 dollars a month yet patients are required to buy their own medical supplies. Daodu dipped into her own wallet to stock up on syringes, gloves and needles. If a child needed a transfusion it was up to the parents to coax family and friends to donate blood. If there was a power outage, test results were simply unavailable.  Doctors there have the knowledge, Daodu explains, but no resources. She was there to investigate oxygen treatments for kids with pneumonia, specifically machines that convert ambient air into oxygen, a less expensive alternative to oxygen tanks. It took her a month and a half to get a backup generator in the room so they would work in a power outage, a routine occurrence.  Her frustration grew when she realized a separate, private ward within the same hospital was well-stocked for patients who could afford it.

The experience reinforced Daodu’s desire to help improve health-care systems in developing countries. She wants to work on international surgical education projects in impoverished regions to ensure first responders are properly trained in basic, life-saving procedures like inserting chest tubes. The World Health Organization identified surgical care among the globe’s top five pressing healthcare needs. The reality is: simple surgeries are getting missed and the consequences can be personally devastating. A patient with something as minor as a hernia—left surgically untreated—might go decades unable to work and be shunned by his community, Daodu notes. She also wants to offer her surgical skills in disaster zones. This fall, she is headed to Haiti, a country still shattered by 2010’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake. “As a surgeon, you really have an ability to make an impact,” she says. Daodu knows it takes leadership to act on these kinds of opportunities. She defines a good leader as someone who is “willing to take in and adapt to the changes that are presented along the way, without giving up.” It’s a philosophy that’s guided her throughout her life and, she’s happy to say, some of the kids from her old neighbourhood too. While studying in University Centre one day, Daodu bumped into a former participant of her West Broadway homework buddies group. Daodu had lost touch with the girl when she stopped coming to the centre as a teen so was thrilled to see she made it to university. The student had faced, and clearly overcome, a lot of the same challenges Daodu did. “It was pretty exciting to see that she had continued on and was doing well,” Daodu says. “It was awesome.”

This story, reprinted with permission of the University of Manitoba, originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of On ManitobaTito Daodu, a 2013 University of Manitoba grad (MD; BSc[Med]), was honored recently as one of the university’s Outstanding Young Alumni.


Taking the Long Way to Medical Radiation Technology

By: Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador

Lynn Watson-Lee took the long path to Medical Radiation Technology. She went to Saint Mary's University in Halifax right after graduating from high school, and ran out of money before she was able to finish her B.Sc., so she got a job at a local nursing home and trained as a Personal Support Worker. Eventually, she finished her B.Sc., and continued to work in healthcare. When she moved to London in 2004, Lynn started working with VON, doing home care. She enrolled in the MRT program at Fanshawe College in 2006, and graduated in 2009, with her MRT(R) designation.

Lynn loved the scientific aspects of the courses she took: "While the majority of my job is patient care and radiographic positioning, I like that I know about radiation and how the machines work; how x-rays are created, how they interact with body tissues, how the images are actually created, etc. I still tutor Medical Radiation Physics and enjoy it a lot."

According to Lynn, there is no typical day in X-Ray: "We have three main x-ray departments at UH (London Health Science Centre): General Radiology on the second floor, and Emergency Radiology in the ER, plus the Fowler-Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic at UWO. In General, we mostly image patients who are going to see surgeons in Orthopaedics, Neurology, Cardiology, Urology, or other specialties. We also have portable X-ray machines for inpatients who are unable to come down to the department for imaging. Sports Med is primarily Ortho, but we may also see some of the students who get referred over. Plus we see any Inpatients who may need follow-up imaging after procedures or when their condition changes. The x-ray area in the Emergency department pretty much just does whatever the ER docs need to see to understand what's going on. We don't see as much trauma as Victoria Hospital does, but I do have a lot of very interesting stories. We also run fluoroscopy (real-time, video x-ray) in Operating Rooms and procedure rooms. The vast majority of people who come through the healthcare system need imaging of some sort to support their diagnosis, treatment, or management of disease. We are 'open' 24/7/365, and provide a vital service."

 Although she always knew she wanted to be in the frontline of healthcare, MRT was not always where she imagined herself. She once considered Medical School, but realized that it might be too much. With her MRT position, Lynn finds a perfect balance; in which she can help others, and also see them.

 When asked what advice she would give those interested in the field, she had this to say: "Get out and work at a few different hospitals. I was hired where I trained, but one of the best things I did was take a contract position at another hospital. I learned different equipment, routines, and procedures, which only served to help me think "outside the box" on a regular basis. Also, shadow a MRT before you apply to the program. A lot of people have no idea what we really do. It is a very physically demanding job, and can also be psychologically and emotionally draining - especially when we are working in the morgue, OR, ICU, or ER.3.

Why Not Be A Nurse?

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador

ENT/Urology Nurse Karla McTaggart-Steen had always known that she wanted to work in the field of healthcare, but originally saw herself as a physiotherapist. She started out taking Western University's Kinesiology program, but soon realized her grades didn't meet the mark.

Nursing seemed like the obvious next step: "One day I woke up and thought 'Why not become a nurse?' It's a good job, secure profession, with a good income and the best part is you get to help people through the most challenging times in their lives".

With that, she pursued the collaborative Nursing program provided by both Fanshawe College and Western University. When asked what she found most useful about the program, she had this to say: "My clinical placements were the most beneficial experiences as I was able to go to different clinical settings and gain a sense of the type of nursing I enjoyed the best.  I was able to interact with patients and their families and learn about health, wellness and empathy."

A day on the job can be full of both reward and sacrifice: "I start at either 7 am, or 7 pm, and basically don't sit down for 12 hours.  Sometimes I miss my breaks, or go for 6-7 hours without eating something.  I am responsible for much more then basic patient care, I make sure the docs don't miss anything, that my patients get to all of their appointments on time, that they are cleaned, walked, dressings are done, vital signs stable, educated about lifestyle changes, given all their medications on time, documentation donein addition, there is coordinating care with allied health,  caring for their family members, wiping tears, making jokes, laughing and helping them to have a few smiles in this dark time in their life.  Go home, shower and repeat less than 12 hours later"

In spite of the sacrifice made, Karla says that the most rewarding thing is being able to help. Whether it be guiding patients and their families through after-hospital care, or holding the hand of a dying patient, being the helping hand is a blessing. She hopes to help even further by going back to school for nurse practitioner credentials, where she hopes to work alongside a family physician.

When asked for advice for future Nursing hopefuls, she had this to say: "My advice would be make sure it is something you really want to do, not something you go into for the money.  It is a very physically and emotionally draining career and if your heart is not into it, you will burn out.  It is a great career in that there are so many job options for nurses.  It is a very well-respected and rewarding career."

RPN Combines Passion with Compassion for Rewarding Career

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Sheri Fleming’s passion involves her compassion for others and she is able to put that to work as a Registered Practical Nurse at Parkwood Hospital in London, ON. In addition, she also works at a long-term care facility. Originally from Thunder Bay, Sheri graduated from the Nursing program at Fanshawe College in 2014 while she was also working as a Personal Support Worker. Although she enjoyed working with her clients, her dream was to be working in a hospital, and she soon had Parkwood in mind:

“When I was in school,” says Fleming, “I had a placement on the unit I'm currently working in and I immediately fell in love with the staff, the patients and the work we do. I was lucky enough to do my consolidation there from January to March 2014 and began applying for jobs within St. Joseph's Health Care immediately after leaving.”

Sheri’s path to nursing initially started as a path to dental hygiene. She took a Pre-Health Science program, but she admits that, “after a short placement I quickly realized that wasn't for me.” It turns out that her experience with dental hygiene was just a stepping stone that led Sheri onto the path that was right for her: “[Afterwards,] I started really looking into careers I could do that would make me happy. Then I found nursing. I couldn't be any happier with the career I have chosen.” For people who are interested in following Sheri Fleming’s path as a Registered Practical Nurse, she says there is not a shortage of jobs available in this field. In fact, according to a recent “Workopolis” article by Peter Harris, Registered Practical Nurses are among the top 15 most in-demand jobs in Canada! (Harris, 2014)

When asked why she loves being a Registered Practical Nurse, Fleming emphasized that “there are so many different areas of nursing. You can do so many different things. The two jobs I have now are so very different and I enjoy the work at both places.” Sheri also loves that she is in an environment where being able to learn new things is a constant job requirement. She states, “I never go a whole day without learning something new.” But most of all, Sheri loves her patients and they’re the reason she goes back to work every day, even after the exhausting 12 hour shifts:  “I love working with people and getting to know their stories and being able to help them—whether it's through a difficult time in their life, or keeping them comfortable in their last days. I see people when they're at their most vulnerable and I do my best to ensure the patient maintains their dignity.” There is no doubt that Sheri loves the work she does and that the hard work it took to get there has led to a very rewarding career!

Works Cited:

Harris, Peter. “15 in-demand jobs in Canada that are waiting to be filled right now." Workopolis., 19 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.