Healthy Living in the North

Why did you become a researcher? Learn about Chelsea Pelletier’s desire to increase physical activity for all Northerners

Chelsea presenting her work on the 2018 Physical Activity Summit at a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research event.

Chelsea presenting her work on the 2018 Physical Activity Summit at a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research event.

I’ve always been curious about researchers at post-secondary institutions. What made them want to get into research, and what continues to drive them? Through my role at Northern Health, I’ve been fortunate to meet multiple researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).

To appease my curiosity, I approached Chelsea Pelletier, Assistant Professor in the School of Health Sciences and an avid researcher at UNBC, to learn about her path to becoming a researcher and her current projects.

“During my undergraduate studies in Kinesiology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, I was unsure what I wanted to do after graduation,” says Chelsea. “In my fourth year, I did an honours project that involved a research component. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and learning about research. My mentor encouraged me to pursue additional education and a career in research. It’s led me to where I am today.”

After graduation, Chelsea moved to Ontario where she furthered her education with McMaster University’s Master’s and Doctoral (PhD) programs in Kinesiology.

“I was interested in exercise and physical activity to manage or prevent chronic disease. My Master’s and PhD programs were an opportunity to connect with people in those fields and learn more.

“I did a post-doctoral fellowship at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. They help people to overcome the challenges of injury, illness, or age-related health conditions to live active, healthy lives. My supervisor ran a program for chronic disease and exercise; I learned a lot about how to work with people and community members. It inspired me to continue on this path for my research.”

In 2015, Chelsea took her talents west to Prince George to begin her career as a professor and researcher.

“Since I started at UNBC, I’ve been able to grow my research in areas that matter to communities. I spend a lot of time not only talking to community members, but listening to them. I try to let the community drive the research rather than my own interests.”

Chelsea and her two small dogs sit on a log on a sunny day.

Relaxing after a walk with dogs Blossom (L) and Cohen (R) in Salmon Valley.

Chelsea’s research mainly focuses on factors that shape physical activity for communities, understanding how to work with partners, and adding physical activity to people’s lives.

“Physical activity is an important part of being healthy. It decreases stress, improves self-esteem, gives you energy, and makes you stronger. It helps prevent chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and strokes. As we age, it becomes even more important to live an active life.”

She’s also working on a few special projects including a cardiac rehab study in Terrace, and a study with the BC Wildfire Service to learn about the impacts wildfires have on firefighters and command-centre staff.

As Chelsea’s career progresses, she continues to work with community members and partner organizations to focus on items that matter to them. All of these have an end goal of improving physical activity in the North and creating healthier communities.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Melinda Lau

Melinda stands on a train track that disappears in the distant forest. A sunny sky beats down on her.

Taking in the scenery on the Pouce Coupe Bridge.

I recently noticed a common theme in my conversations with many Northern Health staff members. They were planning on coming to the North for a short time, but they’ve stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Melinda Lau, Chief Physiotherapist, Rehabilitation in Fort St. John. Melinda is from Toronto, and came to Northern Health in 2016.

I came for…

I originally came to Northern Health for a temporary maternity leave position in Dawson Creek. When that ended, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I found the Chief Physiotherapist position posting in Fort St. John and decided to apply. I had limited managerial experience and I had only been in practice for a few years, so I was excited when I was offered the position!

I like the outdoors and the mountains, and wanted to live somewhere close to hiking trails and rock climbing. I had visited the area before, during a trip to the Yukon, so I knew what to expect when I came here. I liked the small-town feel in the Peace River region.

Melinda mountain climbs, suspended by a rope, hanging onto a rock. The rock fades from grey to brown and yellow.

Melinda working on her mountain climbing skills on Hassler Crag just outside of Chetwynd.

I stayed because…

There are a lot of different activities to get involved with, including cross-country skiing, the pottery guild, and so much more. I enjoy attending all of the different festivals, rodeos, and events in town.

I love the people I work with, and couldn’t ask for a better team. Everyone gets along great, and it feels like I’m working with a group of my friends.

I have been given so many amazing opportunities in this role. The leadership team has allowed me to develop many different areas in addition to my clinical practice. I’ve been given more areas to manage, and been allowed to develop my own interests. I feel valued as an employee; they are investing in me, which makes me want to stay here and grow and develop. My original plan was to stay here for a year, but I don’t feel the need to go anywhere else!

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Ibolya Agoston

Ibolya is in the front of a canoe on a clam lake, surrounded by mountains.

Ibolya enjoying time off at the Bowron Lakes in the Cariboo.

I recently noticed a common theme in my conversations with many Northern Health staff members. They were planning on coming to the North for a short time, but they’ve stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Ibolya Agoston, team leader, Mental Health and Addictions Specialized Services. Based in Fort St. John, Ibolya is from Romania and came to Northern Health in 2003.

I came for…

I came to Canada for an adventure, where I could forge my own career path. I was living in England at the time, and wanted to experience the adventure of living in a Northern, rural community.

I was told about Health Match BC as a resource to learn more about nursing in BC. Their staff guided me to available positions in Northern Health. Well before Google maps, I had no idea where Fort St. John was located. To help me decide where I wanted to live, I went to the local library, and looked through photo books imagining what life would be like in the North. Then, I called the Fort St. John Health Unit and the receptionist who answered the phone sold me on the community. If it wasn’t for her sales pitch, I might have gone to a different community.

Iboyla takes a selfie. Behind her is a small valley and lake.

Iboyla participating in the Emperor’s challenge in Tumbler Ridge.

I stayed because…

The people. Leadership in the Northeast encourages the growth and development. They invest in their staff and encourage you to achieve your career goals. I work with amazing staff, and I enjoy impacting their career development. I’m able to coach them and encourage their own career growth.

I love the lifestyle I have in Fort St. John. We are close to nature and it’s a relaxed atmosphere. People who come here tend to have a similar mindset. Outside of work, I can canoe, hike, or cross-country ski.

Our patients are my immediate community. We’re serving people that I’m sometimes acquainted with, and interactions carry more weight because you have a different impact than in a larger community. People can be intimidated by the North, but once you embrace it, you love it!

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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Making a difference in the lives of older adults: a UNBC researcher’s passion

Shannon Freeman is pictured.

Shannon Freeman’s grandparents played a large role in her upbringing. Their impact influences her research today.

I’ve always been curious about researchers at post-secondary institutions. What made them want to get into research, and what continues to drive them? Through my role at Northern Health, I’ve been fortunate to meet multiple researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).

To finally appease my curiosity, I approached Shannon Freeman, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing and avid researcher at UNBC, to learn about her path to becoming a researcher and her current projects.

“My upbringing wasn’t traditional,” says Shannon, who grew up in a small town of less than 1,000 people in Southern Ontario. “I was partially raised by my grandmother, and my grandparents were very influential in my life. We developed a strong bond, which drew me towards a career where I could make a difference in the lives of older adults.”

Shannon considered some professions that help older adults, but they weren’t the right fit. She discovered her love of research while finishing her degree across the Pacific Ocean.

“I went to Japan to complete my master’s education. My research project focused on centenarians [people who have lived to or beyond 100 years of age] and longevity. They have a high number of centenarians, and I was interested in learning what they do differently to live so long. It motivated me to get involved with research as my career.”

Shannon’s current research projects focus on improving the quality of life for older adults through meaningful engagement.

Five residents of Gateway Lodge play cards with a university student.

Residents at Gateway Lodge enjoy a game of cards led by a UNBC student as part of the interAGE project.

“Two projects that I’m currently working on at Gateway Lodge in Prince George are the interAGE intergenerational cohousing project and Grow Your Own horticulture project,” says Shannon. “Everything I do connects with older adults.”

Both of these projects focus on reducing social isolation in the long-term care setting.

The interAGE project involves two UNBC students living in Gateway Lodge’s assisted-living wing for a semester. The students are responsible for developing and delivering activities that are in addition to residents’ regularly scheduled activities.

“The residents really enjoy living and interacting with the students. Activities are well attended and it’s been a positive experience for everyone involved.”

Succulents and other plants grow in a pots in an indoor garden.

The indoor flower garden at Gateway Lodge is a welcoming place for residents and their families to enjoy all year.

The Grow Your Own project focuses on gardening.

“Residents identified gardening as something they wanted to do. Last year was our first year with the project. This year, we’ve added outdoor raised beds that are designed for standing people and those in wheelchairs. A core group of residents lead the project, and plan what to plant. It’s an activity they find meaningful, and are committed to.”

For Shannon, there is no greater success than hearing that you changed someone’s perspective on aging.

“I love what I do, and the older adults and partners that I work with on these research projects continue to inspire me every day. I’m excited to start new projects that build on this work. Research allows me to give back to my community and make a difference in people’s lives.”

True to her word, she is already planning her next project: indoor hydroponic gardening at Gateway Lodge.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Cecilia Chiumia

Cecilia stands in her office.

Cecilia at work.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common theme in my conversations with Northern Health staff! Many staff members planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Cecilia Chiumia, Team Lead, Inpatient Psychiatric Unit in Dawson Creek. Cecilia is from Africa and came to Northern Health in 2008.

I came for…

I’ve travelled all my life. My mom worked for an airline and my dad worked for an oil company. So, growing up, I was very exposed to travelling. After completing high school, I wanted to travel some more. I decided to move to the United Kingdom (UK) to pursue nursing. I spent a lot of time travelling across Europe and Africa, but after 18 years, decided it was time for a change.

In 2006, my partner and I made the decision to move to North America. We found Canada appealing and decided it was where we wanted to live. I was initially hired by Interior Health and worked in Kamloops, and my partner was hired by Northern Health and worked in Dawson Creek. In 2008, we decided that I’d move to Dawson Creek. We had a two-year plan to stay here, then we would move on to somewhere else.

Cecilia and four of her co-workers dressed in Christmas-themed outfits, holding a tinsel frame around them.

Cecilia celebrating the holidays with her unit co-workers at a holiday celebration (L-R) Helen, Elizabeth, Debbie, Brenda, and Cecilia.

I stayed because…

I’ve enjoyed working for Northern Health and have great co-workers. There are lots of opportunities for professional development and career growth. I’ve taken available opportunities that have allowed me to grow. When I left the UK, I was in a leadership position, and I am back in a leadership position at Northern Health.

The morale and sense of community is amazing. It feels similar to what I had growing up in Africa. It’s a small community with friendly neighbours who welcomed us with open arms. Wherever you go, people are accommodating. Not only people I work with, but people I have met that have become my friends. It’s been a great place to raise our children.

We continue to travel, and have seen most of BC. Airline travel has become easier thanks to more flights from Dawson Creek and Fort St. John. We can easily get to new and exciting destinations throughout North America. Whenever I travel, I am truly excited when I get back home to Dawson Creek. Twelve years on, I’ve realized that our two-year plan is out the window, and we are here to stay.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Gillian McCutcheon

Gillian and her four-year-old daughter, wearing life jackets, in a boat on the Skeena River. The river, forest, and mountains are behind them.

Gillian’s daughter, Polly (4), giving a thumbs up to her first rafting trip on the Upper Skeena.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common theme in my conversations with Northern Health staff! Many staff members planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Gillian McCutcheon, a human resources advisor based in Terrace. Gillian is from Squamish and came to Northern Health in 2015.

I came for…

My husband and I were trying to move to Terrace for about six years. He had been working in the area for a number of years. We knew the area quite well, and liked the closeness to so many activities. It was important for us to be close to water, and not be land locked. We are winter people, and Terrace has all of the winter activities we love to do.

I like the small town feel, and Terrace reminded me of what Squamish felt like 20 years ago. I commuted to Vancouver for work everyday. With our children being so small, it was hard to juggle daycare, the commute, and all of my responsibilities at home. A short commute was very important to me, which made Terrace even more appealing.

Gillian and her eight-year-old daughter wearing their ski gear on a chair lift.

Gillian and her oldest daughter, Maggie (8), skiing at Shames Mountain.

I stayed because…

My work-life balance is great. There are lots of career opportunities at Northern Health to move around and try new things. We’ve always wanted to live on acreage, which we are able to do in Terrace and it’s still only a few minutes from town.

We’ve only been here for four years, which isn’t long, but it feels like home already. Our children really like it here, and there are lots of activities for them to be involved in. Our oldest is really involved in skiing, dance, and Taekwondo. Our youngest has tried dance, t-ball, and yoga already.

We truly feel like part of the community. Unlike Squamish, people live and work here, which is very noticeable. We are active in the ski hill, and enjoy camping, ice skating, and snow shoeing. We recently bought a white water raft and we’re anticipating spending most of the summer on the river. There’s lots to explore, and we feel like we’re only getting started.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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The CNC Health and Wellness Centre: providing medical care to students, staff, and faculty

Behind a desk, one woman sits at a computer while another woman stands behind her, looking over her shoulder.

L-R: CNC Health and Wellness Centre Clinic Counsellor, Lacy Chabot and Medical Office Assistant, Connie Kragt reviewing the centre’s schedule.

Nestled by the dental wing, in the back corner of the College of New Caledonia’s (CNC) Prince George campus, is the Health and Wellness Centre. This inviting space is home to a medical office assistant, counsellor, physician, and two nurse practitioners. They offer medical care to students, staff, and faculty who walk through their doors.

Cheryl Dussault, a nurse practitioner, is one of the dedicated staff working at the centre.

“We provide the basic services required to meet our clients’ everyday health care needs,” says Cheryl. “Our focus is on health promotion, preventing illness, and managing chronic conditions. We have a counsellor on the team to provide mental health support to students.”

General practice physician Dr. Heather Smith is at the centre half a day per week.

“We are more than birth control, STI testing, and mental health services,” says Dr. Smith. “We deal with complex medical conditions including strokes, heart attacks, and neurological disorders. We are a full-service family practice with the same skills and abilities as other clinics.”

A team approach offers the right care by the right provider. Staff at the clinic work with other health care providers and the CNC community. This ensures students receive the appropriate care and contributes to student success.

The centre operates as a partnership between CNC and Northern Health. For more information on the CNC Health and Wellness Centre, visit their website.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Stella Ndunda

Stella and her mother are bundled up on top of a hill, overlooking other snowy hills and a body of water.

Stella (left) introducing her mom to the Fort St. John winters.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common theme in my conversations with Northern Health staff! Many staff members planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Stella Ndunda, a primary care team lead based in Fort St. John. Stella is from Kenya and joined Northern Health in 2012.

I came for…

In 2003, I left Kenya and came to Canada to pursue my Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology. After completing my master’s, I worked casual positions for a year in Vancouver. I needed full-time hours, and at that time it was difficult to gain full-time employment in Vancouver. I was alerted to an opening at the Fort St. John office with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. It was a really good job where I gained lots of experience. In 2012, I started at Northern Health as a care process coach.

Stella in the mall. Beside her is a table with a sign that says "Zumba with Stella."

Stella promoting her Zumba classes at the local Fort St John shopping centre.

I stayed because…

I did not plan or anticipate that I would stay in Fort St. John for so long, and I’m often asked why I’ve stayed. I’ve gotten more involved with the community in Fort St. John than I ever did in Vancouver. I received lots of support and kindness from the community and I have built genuine friendships.

As an African woman, camping, swimming, hiking, or fishing are not typically things to do, but I had wonderful friends that I trusted to push me way beyond my comfort zone! Surprisingly, I’ve really enjoyed those activities. I like trying new things and, despite it being a small town, Fort St. John has lots of activities to offer. I’ve shared my love of music and dance through teaching Zumba. It’s been wonderful sharing a bit of myself with the community.

At Northern Health, I’ve had great leaders who’ve supported my career growth and development. The team at Fort St. John Community Services is wonderful and I’m excited for our future.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Rai Read

Rai and her horse are check to check. The sun beams into the picture.

Rai spending quality time with her horse, Macy, on a sunny day.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common theme in my conversations with Northern Health staff! Many staff members planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Rai Read, Elderly Service Clinician, who’s based in Terrace. Rai is from England and came to Northern Health in 2011.

I came for…

Honestly, my husband and I came to Terrace thanks to Google Maps. We immigrated to Canada in 2008, and originally moved to Edmonton. Our picture of Canada was a country filled with mountains and trees, and that was not our experience there. Edmonton wasn’t the place for us, and we decided to see what opportunities were available elsewhere.

Two women are horseback with the backs to the camera. They're in a flat, sandy area with mountains and blue sky in the background.

A horseback ride with friends near Thornhill.

We wanted a smaller community with outdoor space to raise our son. Since we were unfamiliar with the area, we spent time looking at photos and maps to learn more. After searching online, we found job postings in Terrace, and I was the successful applicant. If it wasn’t for Google Maps and the internet, I never would have found out about Terrace and moved here.

I stayed because…

For me, a big factor is the innovation at Northern Health. They are constantly looking for ways to change and improve. Leadership supports innovation and encourages staff to learn new things. We have developed new programs and processes that have been extremely beneficial for patients and staff. Having rural and remote communities means that we need to be really creative in how we deliver care, and using telehealth allows us to easily collaborate with different professions and experts.

A boy of approximately 10 stands in front of several paintings, which are hanging on the wall.

Rai’s son Dylan at the Terrace Art Gallery attending local artist Mitchell’s Brager’s exhibit.

At Northern Health, we are fortunate to have lots of strong female leaders. From our CEO, Cathy Ulrich, to my direct manager, Clare Hart. As a woman, it makes me feel empowered knowing our organization supports females to grow and develop. I’m lucky to have such a great manager, and I’m proud to be part of her team.

I’m not into fishing, kayaking, or skiing, but Terrace has much more to offer. We have a fabulous farmers’ market, and options for arts and culture. It’s a great place for our son to grow up. There’s truly something for everyone, and I have no intention of going anywhere else.

 

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Clare Hart

Clare smiles into the camera. Her brown and white horse is directly behind her. Mountains and forest is further in the background.

Clare with her horse, Graffiti.

If you’ve been following this series, you’ll be familiar with the common theme I’ve uncovered among many Northern Health staff: many of them had planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer! Meet one such person, Clare Hart, Director of Specialized Services for the Northwest, based in Terrace. Clare is from England and came to Northern Health in 2009.

I came for…

I was born in a coal mining village in the Northern part of England. It’s an industrial area that is not very clean. Growing up, I always dreamed of living somewhere green, with fresh air and nice woodlands.

I studied to become a registered nurse and had worked in different emergency room positions in England. When we were looking to move, there were a few different countries that needed nurses. English is the only language I speak, so that eliminated quite a few countries. Another big factor was that I wanted the time difference to allow me to talk to my family in England at somewhat normal times.

At that time, I had three children and wanted them to grow up in an area with different opportunities and be close to nature. We chose Terrace because of the job opportunities and natural beauty of the area. We’re surrounded by mountains, rivers, lakes, and an abundance of fresh air.

On top of a mountain, Clare smiles in front of a helicopter. She is surrounded by snowy mountains.

Taking a helicopter ride around Terrace to see all the scenery.

I stayed because…

My children have easily settled into life in Terrace. The schools are smaller and my children felt very welcomed from the moment we arrived. Community members have embraced us, and we have built a network of friends that feel more like family.

I really enjoy the outdoors and in the winter I like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. I love that I can pack a picnic and drive in any direction and have quality time outdoors with my family. We have a dog, horse, and a variety of other animals that are a huge part of my life.

I have been able to advance my career in Terrace. I started out as an emergency room nurse at Mills Memorial Hospital and have transitioned to a psychiatric nurse, team lead, manager of mental health and substance use, and now director of specialized services. I feel extremely appreciated by my team and other colleagues. I really appreciate that they always make me feel welcome, like I was born and raised here.

 

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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