Healthy Living in the North

Celebrating the work of dietitians in the north: Dietitians Day 2018

Did you know that March 14th is National Dietitians Day in Canada? On this day, we celebrate registered dietitians (RDs) as healthcare professionals who support health through food and nutrition. It’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on the contributions of the approximately 35 passionate, knowledgeable, and dedicated RDs that work all throughout Northern Health. In particular, I started to think about those dietitians that have served in the north for many years and how things have changed over the years.

Linda’s story

 I first met Linda McMynn in the fall of 1996. She interviewed (and subsequently hired) me via videoconference for a job at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. It was my first experience with videoconference, a very new technology at the time. Linda’s willingness and courage to use this brand new technology really speaks to her openness to seek out new challenges. Linda was the first dietitian to work in Terrace, moving here in the 1970s:

I got to write my own job description and develop the job the way I wanted. I felt very isolated in the beginning, but the job turned out to be a huge opportunity. I was able to explore and work in many areas of the profession that I wouldn’t have if I’d stayed in Vancouver.”

Working in the north helped shape Linda’s preferences and career path. She says that during her training, she enjoyed clinical work, but intensely disliked food service and administrative dietetics. However, in the past two decades with Northern Health, Linda has immersed herself in the food service world. She pioneered the development of high quality food service practices and policies that have improved food service in all Northern Health facilities.

Two dietitians cooking pasta together.

Left: Linda McMynn and Right: Flo Sheppard; circa 2010 in Smithers at a Northwest Dietitian gathering, making pasta.

When I asked Linda what she believed to be at the core of her work as a dietitian, she was quick to say ‘food first’:

The best way to ensure good nutrition is by preparing, eating, and enjoying good food  . . . ideally with others.”

Certainly, I recall her efforts to make this real for the residents of Terraceview Lodge, a residential living facility in Terrace. I’ve always been struck by how deeply Linda cares about the people she serves. Certainly, many dietitians, including myself, prefer to be working behind the scenes to make things better, like Linda.

Wendy’s story

 Wendy Marion-Orienti is a dietitian based out of Smithers. Like most northern dietitians, she is a generalist, working across the spectrum of care: health promotion and prevention, treatment, and long-term care. She is best known for her expertise in person-centred care, especially with clients with diabetes and disordered eating. When I first met Wendy in 1996, I was struck by her passion for food and her focus on providing whole-person care.

Two dietitians standing together on rock over looking valley near Smithers, BC.

Left: Wendy Marion-Orienti and Right: Shelly Crack; taken near Smithers circa 2010.

Wendy didn’t start out wanting to be a dietitian. Initially she was enrolled in a degree in interior design at the University of Saskatchewan. The program had set courses for the first two years. While taking a required nutrition course, she was struck by the professor’s impassioned description of nutrition and its ability to make a profound difference at the local, national, and global level. It was this discovery that motivated Wendy to switch career paths. Her upbringing on a mixed farm in Saskatchewan, where “we ate what we grew and very few foods were purchased (sometimes macaroni)” is what “planted [her] in nutrition,” so this switch to a career as a dietitian was an easy one.

When asked what she loves most about her work, Wendy said:

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with clients, families, colleagues, and community . . . to walk with them, and to support them in making informed choices about their health.”

 I, along with many other dietitian colleagues, have been on the receiving end of Wendy’s warm and nurturing support and friendship.

Reflections of nutrition: then and now

Collectively, Linda and Wendy have offered almost 100 years of quality service to northern BC.  When asked about changes in the nutrition landscape, both of them reflected on how the field of nutrition has continued to grow.

Linda noted that there has been a growth in the interest in food and nutrition:

When I first started working as a dietitian, nutrition was not a frequent topic of discussion in the media. I don’t remember there being the prevalence of food fads, supplements, and diets being promoted. There wasn’t much interest in where our food comes from. Now there is so much more interest in all aspects of food.”

 Wendy agreed. She reflected that, throughout the years, there are cycles of food fads – the “miracle” food was once broccoli, then kale, cauliflower, and coconut, to name a few. In truth, there are no magic foods, rather the wisdom of variety and balance prevail.

Wendy also appreciates the ever-expanding variety of foods that can be enjoyed. She remembers when yogurt and granola were rare, found only in health food stores. Now, an increasing number of people enjoy diverse eating patterns that incorporate foods from a variety of cultures and those locally grown or produced. Wendy incorporates influences from Korea, China, and Thailand into her cooking, as a result of travel to these countries. However, she occasionally enjoys a traditional meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, and fresh greens from the garden, which is a meal from her youth. Although the foods we eat and our understanding of healthy eating has grown over time, the basic understanding that food means more than nutrients, is key. Food celebrates who we are and where we come from.

This year’s Dietitians Day, I’d like to honour the RDs that have come before me, those I work with now, and those who will come next. I feel honoured to share in the work that dietitians do. RDs have a strong scientific knowledge base, and promote person-centered health, not only through food and nutrition, but also through their passion, commitment, and advocacy for the health and wellness of the communities they serve.

Do you have a story about how a dietitian has made a difference for you?  If so, we’d love to hear about it. Happy Dietitians Day!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo's commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!


Foodie Friday: Northwest Fish Tacos

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jeannie Parnell, a community developer with a passion for food. We recently did a joint presentation on nutrition and Indigenous Food Sovereignty. It was exciting to hear her talk about how she makes wholesome meals for her family by incorporating harvested traditional foods alongside foods purchased from the store.

Indigenous food, harvest, tacos

Jeannie Parnell is a community developer with a passion for food!

Jeannie is from the Stellat’en First Nation, near Fraser Lake, and currently resides in Prince Rupert with her husband and son. She explains:

“I wanted to make a healthier version of what is now being called the ‘Indian tacos’ Jeannie told me. ‘Indian Tacos’ are usually made with fried white bannock, topped off with chili, cheese and sour cream, and having little or no vegetables. Also, some Indigenous people are lactose intolerant so I wanted to create a recipe with the option of no cheese or sour cream with the addition of vegetables. I call this recipe the ‘Northwest Fish Taco’. The Northwest Fish Taco provides a healthy alternative that is less time consuming to make and is more versatile—you can use baked salmon or vary the vegetables!”

Jeannie likes to make most of her meals from food she and her family have harvested. She explains that they taste better and incorporate her family’s traditions:

Growing up as a family of nine, we relied heavily on our own Indigenous foods to supplement our food budget. My brothers are hunters. My mother did the fishing for our family for many years. My traditional teachings come from my mom who kept those going. She always had a smokehouse and did her own canning. We had a huge garden that we worked in as kids. I am so thankful for all of this; it enhanced my quality of life.”

Salmon, (which is rich in protein, omega 3 fats, vitamin D, and vitamin A) as part of healthy diet, can help us in overall wellness. Health Canada recommends that we eat 2 – 4 servings per week of fatty fish like salmon. This taco recipe is a delicious way to get in one of those servings! Check out the First Nations Health Authority Traditional Foods Fact sheets or these food and nutrition fact sheets for more information.

I’m looking forward to trying Jeannie’s Northwest Fish Tacos!


  • ½ head of purple or green cabbage, sliced
  • 2-3 Tbsp. of vegetable oil (try olive or grapeseed oil)
  • Juice from 1 lemon or 2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Mix together. Set aside in the fridge.

tacos, harvest, indigenous food

Healthy and delicious tacos!


  • 6-8 corn or flour tortillas
  • ½ Tbsp. of vegetable oil such as olive oil

Heat the oil in a cast iron pan. Add tortillas and toast both sides until golden brown. Put aside.


  • ½ of a left over baked salmon, broken into chunks and bones removed
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable such as olive oil

Heat the oil in a cast iron pan. Add fish and toast on both sides until a little crunchy.

Avocado Dressing

  • ½ avocado
  • ½ cup of fresh dill (if using dried, use less)
  • Juice from ½ lemon (or 1 Tbsp. bottled lemon juice)
  • ¼ cup of water

Blend until smooth.

To serve:

Put salmon into each tortilla with the coleslaw on top. Top with avocado dressing and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with salad and roasted sweet potatoes if desired. Makes 6 – 8 tacos.

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.


IMAGINE Community Grants: An opportunity to connect with your community

With the launch of the final cycle of 2017 IMAGINE Community Grants, this time of year has me waiting in anticipation to see what exciting ideas will be submitted, and reflecting on some of my favorites from past cycles.

Don’t get me wrong- all projects selected for grant support are excellent ideas, and we love the work the groups and organizations do to promote healthier communities. The things they can accomplish with just a bit of seed money is truly amazing! However, there are a few that just stick with you because they’re a bit different from the rest.

One such project that comes to my mind when thinking about IMAGINE came to us from Kispiox last fall. In this application, a local youth basketball team asked for supplies to provide weekly visits to Elders in their own homes throughout the winter, where they would chop and stack wood, and shovel their driveways and walkways for them. The youth and their chaperones engaged in physical activity to support the Elders, but the main focus of the project was creating those inter-generational linkages that promote and support social connectedness and positive mental wellness. A true benefit for everyone in the community!

IMAGINE grants believing in our project gave us the confidence to start connecting with our community. It gave our children self-esteem and filled their hearts with how good it feels to give back to the community without expecting anything in return. The feedback and support we received from our community members was unreal. It was the perfect time to share with a boys under 12 basketball team, (it’s) such an important and tender age to have such an experience.” – Serita Pottinger, IMAGINE Grant Applicant

elders, imagine granting

The Elders were very appreciative.

The original application request was to purchase gloves, axes, and snow shovels for the project. To incorporate an injury prevention lens, we proposed that they also purchase safety glasses to protect the youth and the group agreed with the recommendation. Now that they have the supplies, the group plans to continue this work for years to come.

imagine granting, helping elders

These kids sure know how to help!

For me, this project is a great example of prevention in action, and shows how a small amount of grant funding can improve and impact the health of an entire community. The IMAGINE Community Grants is just one of many ways that Northern Health demonstrates how we care for communities and can support others with the same goal.

IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is November 30, 2017.


Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.


Oral Health Month: Working in the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic

Spirit the caribou in front of baby teeth poster
I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be involved in the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic (EDOC) as the clinic coordinator. It’s an amazing clinic where our services are extremely valued. This year, EDOC was even nominated for a Healthier You Award in the Outstanding Multicultural Contribution category! With Oral Health Month now upon us, I wanted to take this chance to tell you a little more about this special service.

What is the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic?

EDOC is a not-for-profit clinic that was started in 2006 by Carole Whitmer, RDH, and Dr. Richard Wilczek as they sought to remove barriers for community members without access to dental care.

There are 20 not-for-profit clinics in B.C. and, apart from coordinator support offered by Northern Health, the clinic in Prince George is the only one that operates strictly with the support of volunteers. I think this speaks volumes to the amazing Prince George dental community! This clinic is only possible because of community partnerships between the local dental community, the Native Friendship Centre (who provide free space, accounting, utilities, and security), and Northern Health.

What do we do at the clinic?

The clinic provides a place for people to go to have emergency dental care free of charge. It is an extraction service only and runs in the evenings on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month out of a clinic in the Native Friendship Centre (1600 3rd Avenue, Prince George). Although free of charge, we gratefully accept donations, which help cover the cost of supplies.

Who uses EDOC services?

The people who access EDOC come from a variety of backgrounds and locations, but the common thread is a need and appreciation for the no-barrier access to emergency dental care. We have many repeat customers and there is a sense of community and caring amongst those waiting. A few months ago, on one of the coldest nights of the year, one of our clients left after his extraction only to return with a “Take 10” of Tim Hortons coffee for the dental volunteers and those still waiting for care! Even though those who use the clinic face financial challenges, what I’ve seen is that they gratefully donate what they can for the treatment provided.

EDOC is a much needed and appreciated program that serves the Prince George and the outlying areas – I feel lucky to be a part of this great program!

Jane Bartell

About Jane Bartell

Jane works at Northern Health as the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic coordinator and as a community dental hygienist, travelling to many communities in the northern interior. Her passion is to have children in the north grow up as healthy as possible, especially from a dental perspective. In her spare time, Jane most enjoys spending time with family and friends hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing on the amazing trails around Prince George. She also enjoys the great music culture that Prince George offers.


2nd annual Dietitians Day pro tips!

Group photo

Northern Health dietitians from Haida Gwaii to Fort St. John gather together!

With Nutrition Month in full swing, it’s time to celebrate the people who bring credible, evidence-based nutrition information to the public: today is Dietitians Day!

Registered dietitians (RDs) are university-trained food and nutrition experts who work in a variety of settings like health care, the community, with business, and in private practice. We translate scientific research into practical solutions for individuals, families, and communities. We love to share our tips on healthy eating while celebrating the social and cultural roles that food plays in our lives!

Did you know that registered dietitians are the only regulated nutrition professionals in British Columbia? This means we are accountable to our regulatory college (College of Dietitians of BC), where we are required to follow professional codes of conduct and ensure our training is kept up to date. The regulatory college is there to protect the public and is your point of contact if you have questions or concerns around an RD’s conduct.

In what is quickly becoming a yearly tradition for Dietitians Day at Northern Health, I’ve once again reached out to my fellow Northern Health dietitians (and a few of our dietetic interns) to share their “Pro Tips” for Nutrition Month. Check them out below and if you are hungry for more, be sure to follow Northern Health on Twitter for nutrition information all month long. Happy Dietitians Day!

What’s your Dietitians Day pro tip?

  • Emilia (Terrace): Enjoy family meals often. People who eat together, eat better!
  • Kelly (dietetic intern, Prince George): Try roasting your veggies. It’s an easy way to bring out their natural sweetness!
  • Lise (Terrace): Jazz up your water! Try cucumber, berries, or mint. Kids can help too!
  • Emilia (Terrace): Make your own take-out. Try pizza or taco night & let everyone pick their own veggie toppings!
  • Marianne (Prince George): Be passionate about food. Grow, cook, or taste something new!
  • Flo (Terrace): Diets don’t work. Eat & enjoy a variety of foods for health & pleasure.
  • Laurel (dietetic intern, Terrace): All foods fit! Eat for your physical, mental, and spiritual health.
  • Tamara (Prince George): Get the kids involved. Let them choose a new recipe & make it together.
  • Olivia (Prince George): Bored with plain water? Try flavoured herbal teas – they are good hot or cold!
  • Flo (Terrace): Behaviour determines health, not weight. Eat intuitively, move joyfully & love your body today.
  • Darcie (Prince George): Dietitians are passionate about food & nutrition! We help translate nutrition science for everyday life.
  • Marianne (Prince George): Enjoy regular meals & snacks. Feed yourself – provide, don’t deprive!

Looking for more information on registered dietitians? Check out Dietitians of Canada.

Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.


Congratulations to NH’s newest Health Care Hero, Barb Crook

Barb accepting her Health Care Hero Award

Congratulations to Barb Crook, Mackenzie’s Health Service Administrator on receiving this year’s Health Care Hero award for Northern Health!

Every year, the Health Employers Association of BC (HEABC) recognizes some of the outstanding and inspiring health care employees and projects with the BC Health Care Awards. This year, we are pleased to share that Barb Crook, a long-time nurse and current Health Service Administrator (HSA) for Northern Health in Mackenzie, BC, has been honoured as NH’s Health Care Hero!

HEABC created a video that profiles Barb’s amazing career, from beginning her nursing career over 40 years ago in New Westminster and working as a front line nurse in Mackenzie for 26 years to completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and becoming Health Service Administrator for Mackenzie.

I also recently chatted with Barb to offer my congratulations and learn a bit more!

What does this Health Care Hero award mean to you?
I’m very honoured to be recognized. I’ve been at Northern Health for 38 years. I nursed for 26 years and then became manager. I always loved bedside nursing but have enjoyed managing people. If I’m a healthcare hero for Mackenzie, it’s because my staff are just as much a hero as I am. It takes a whole team to keep a place running and give everybody the excellent care that we do.

What’s the highlight of your career?
In recent years, being the manager, I love honouring my staff with long-service awards and staff appreciation. I cook seafood lasagna and a meat lasagna and feed them lunch, and give them their pins and a rose. I always love that day. Everybody loves the lasagna!

It was also exciting in my career to complete my degree and graduate from the University of Victoria when I was 52 years old. I was a nursing diploma girl from the 1970s and always said I would get my degree one day. My son phoned and reminded me the day my youngest graduated. I moved out of acute care to become the health service administrator and signed up at UVIC to do my degree by correspondence; it was a busy first four years in this world!

You’ve been in health care for a long time! What would you say is one thing people can do to improve their health?
I do appreciate the new generation and the boundaries they have in their life. They don’t live to work, they work to live. I struggled with that work/life balance myself. There are many times I should say no for my own health or balance, but I would always jump in the back of the ambulance or work another shift.

On behalf of Northern Health, congratulations Barb!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)


Staff profile: Licensing officer Lisa Rice shares her thoughts on quality child care

Woman fishing

As a licensing officer, early childhood educator, and former child care provider, Lisa Rice has seen all sides of the child care world!

Lisa Rice is a licensing officer, early childhood educator and former child care provider. She has seen all sides of the child care world and shared this knowledge with me! With lots of families looking at child care arrangements for the summer months as the end of the school year approaches, it’s the perfect time to share Lisa’s expertise, which was originally featured in Healthier You magazine. Check out the full issue at the end of the article. If you want more information about licensing and providing safe, quality child care, visit our Community Care Licensing site.

I started by asking Lisa a few quick-fire questions about herself!

  • A bit about yourself: I’m a Newfoundlander who moved to British Columbia in 1991. We lived in Bella Coola and Smithers prior to coming to Prince George in 1998. I’m an early childhood educator and have been working in different child care roles since graduating with a diploma in Early Childhood Education in 1988. I became a licensing officer in 2004. I’m married and am the mother of two sons and the grandmother of an 18-month-old granddaughter.
  • Favourite activities: Biking, snowshoeing, and eating healthy.
  • Favourite food: My green smoothies – blend banana, orange, spinach (or anything green), and peanut butter!
  • Favourite part of your job: Seeing the work we do pay off. We support child care settings to become structured, rich, happy, and healthy environments. I recently saw a child care space where 3-4 year olds were taking part in an election activity – it’s great to see creative and inspiring things like that!
  • Who is your role model? If I had to choose one person, it would be my sister, who is bravely battling cancer. Beyond her, I feel like all people who are trying to live a healthy, positive lifestyle are important role models.
  • What is your motto? Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Man and woman skiingGiven Lisa’s experience in all aspects of the child care world, I asked her a few questions about her work and thoughts on quality child care:

What is community care licensing?

Northern Health’s Community Care Licensing program provides regulatory oversight for any facility that provides care to three or more people who aren’t related to the caregiver. This includes child care spaces. Providing oversight means ensuring that care providers are meeting minimum standards to protect the health, safety, and well-being of children. Standards cover everything from staffing to hygiene, physical requirements, nutrition, playtime, and more.

Why is licensing important for safe child care?

By establishing and monitoring minimum standards, licensing lowers the risk of negative health and safety outcomes for children. As licensing officers, we represent families so that they can be assured that the care providers looking after their loved ones are following health and safety principles.

What does a day in the life of a licensing officer look like?

It can be varied! My day might include an unannounced inspection, following up on an incident or complaint, processing a licensing application, or supporting care providers through education and outreach. A lot of what I do on a daily basis is taking upstream health principles and applying them downstream, where kids and families are seeking care.

Three people climbing cutbanksWhat does quality child care look like?

I look for environments that are safe, well-organized, free of hazards, and that invite children to learn and grow. Caregivers should also have open, positive relationships with a child’s family.

What’s interesting is to see how quality child care can be a role model for families. When kids are exposed to healthy behaviours in child care, they take this home to their families. One facility, for example, started their day with all of the kids washing their hands. They later shared that many of their families had adopted this practice at home. When kids came home from daycare, the whole family would wash their hands before doing anything else!

What does a healthy community look like to a licensing officer?

For me, a healthy community models healthy behaviours. A healthy community has families that are well-versed in healthy practices like hand hygiene, healthy eating, and the importance of outdoor play. Licensed child care spaces model these behaviours and the families take these lessons out into the community.

Check out Lisa’s original story and lots of other information about child health in the Summer 2016 issue of Healthier You magazine:

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)


“I always knew that I would come back to nursing”: Richelle’s story

Nurse behind a cart

Thanks to her prior training, Richelle recently transitioned from a position in the private sector to a position at Rotary Manor in Dawson Creek where she’s found some great opportunities and benefits!

Richelle Cooper counts herself as one of the lucky ones. In April 2015, she was riding the Peace Region’s energy boom doing logistical work in one of the industry’s camps when prices began to plummet and she was laid off.

How is that lucky for Richelle? Thanks to Richelle’s prior training as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) from Northern Lights College, she was able to take her career back to the public sector where she’s finding fulfillment in her work, rediscovering the value of being part of a team, and establishing a sense of professional security in spite of the economic downturn.

Born and raised in Dawson Creek, Richelle was inspired to enter health care by her grandmother who worked as a care aide at Rotary Manor.

Given her recent transition, Richelle took some time to speak with me about the differences she has experienced between the private sector and the public sector and how this change has affected her life so far.

Richelle, what was “camp life” like?

For me, the routine and experience became a bit mind numbing. After work, I would just go back to my camp, eat, sleep, and then go back again the next day. I didn’t have family around and I was the only woman in my camp, which meant I had to toughen up. One nice thing was that I didn’t have to cook or clean out there.

And how is your life different now?

The biggest difference I’ve noticed is the pride and appreciation I feel from colleagues and patients when I go to work. While working in the camp, my experience was that people only cared if my job was done, they didn’t necessarily appreciate how well it was done.

Also, now that I live full time in Dawson Creek, I have a great deal of closeness with my friends and family. It was hard to maintain relationships when I was out of town for two weeks at a time.

Do you have more work-life balance?

I do for sure! I have found eight hour shifts to be easier to manage. I now find that I have lots of time left in my day. I coach hockey, go snowboarding, and can do lots of other activities that I couldn’t do when I was living in camps.

Woman standing outside

Born and raised in Dawson Creek, Richelle was inspired to enter health care by her grandmother who worked as a care aide at Rotary Manor.

Did you have a moment when you knew that going to the public sector was the right move for you?

Actually, I had that moment just before I ended up getting laid off. I knew that I wasn’t as happy as I could be in that position, and I felt like there were no opportunities for me to advance in my career there. I need goals; while camp life didn’t offer that for me, my nursing career did! As I was thinking these things, it was a great comfort knowing that I could return to my previous nursing career.

I always knew in my heart that I would come back to nursing. I knew it deep down. It’s part of who I am.

Tell us about the team at Rotary Manor. How does working on that team differ from the team you worked with in the camps?

Our team is awesome! I feel like everybody is on the same page, and if we are not, the discussions are really helpful. Everyone really wants to be there. I find that really refreshing after some of my experiences in the work camps. There, I often got the feeling that we were just there to do a job and get paid. People rarely went the extra step to improve things; they mostly just did what was required with no extra effort. I live by the quote “if it’s good enough, it’s hardly ever good and hardly ever enough!” I feel like I can live by that quote at Rotary Manor and as a nurse!

What advice would you have for anyone looking to get into health care? What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making the jump from the private sector to the public sector?

I would definitely tell them to do as much research as they can and to not be afraid of doing something new – you might like it! Also, while you might find that there is a difference in wages between the public sector and working camp jobs like I did in the oil patch, my return to nursing also brought with it job security and membership in a union that provides me with a number of supports and opportunities.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in health care, Northern Lights College offers Health Care Assistant and Practical Nursing programs.

Start your career with Northern Health at

Steven Prins

About Steven Prins

Steven is a recruiter with Northern Health. He advertises, markets and gets in contact with health care workers throughout Canada to sell Northern Health careers. Steve has a bachelor’s degree in business administration. In his spare time, he is an active fisherman and golfer and a passionate geocaching hound!


Certified Dental Assistants: A passion for healthy smiles!

Two toothbrushes

Northern Health has a dedicated team of public dental health professionals who are busy promoting healthy dental behaviours!

April is Oral Health Month!

You may not know that Northern Health has a dedicated team of public dental health professionals who are busy promoting healthy dental behaviours! This Oral Health Month, I’d like to celebrate and acknowledge the work that our Certified Dental Assistants (CDAs) provide. CDAs are educated, trained dental professionals who make important assessments about patient care every day. The five ladies who make up this team are often the first person that clients meet in their community – whether it’s at family health events, Strong Start, or our fluoride varnish clinics.

I had the privilege of interviewing each of the CDAs last month and discovered the deep passion each has for working with children and families. I asked that they share a few stories and reflections here with you.

Thank you for taking time to read and consider the support these ladies provide in our communities!


I am a Certified Dental Assistant working as a Community Dental Assistant for Northern Health. I’ve been working for six years and during that time, I have been in contact with multiple families. The families that made the biggest impression on me were the ones who had children with early childhood caries. Sometimes these children are in pain and you can really tell that their self-esteem is low. They also struggle to eat well.

After these children are treated and their pain is alleviated, the difference can make you cry! I like to compare it to a flower that is blooming – so beautiful and happy! There is nothing better than watching a child start to thrive again, eat, and be healthy and happy! This is what makes me love my job and makes me passionate about healthy children.


I appreciate the variety that my job as a dental assistant in public & population health offers. I love working with young children and their parents and especially enjoy working with immigrant families. Recently, our dental program was invited to the multicultural society in Prince George to meet with several new refugee families from Syria. A co-worker and I did basic teaching around oral health, screening and referral for obvious dental needs, and did fluoride applications for children under 6 years. The children and I got a great laugh as I attempted to pronounce their names. They had no problem with my name! All in all, it was a great privilege to meet these families and to be a small part of not only helping them on the road to achieve better dental health, but also to show compassion and friendship as they face many new challenges in adjusting to their new life in Canada.


When I think of a success story in my time as a Certified Dental Assistant, I remember the first time I went out to see families in a remote community. I was screening children and doing fluoride varnish with the parents present. One mom had several children at the Health Unit. She brought her 18 month old last. We did a “knee-to-knee” dental exam and “lift-the-lip.” As we looked at this child’s teeth, I noticed the start of cavities. Not just white lines, but brown, stained upper anterior teeth with ditching in them. Further investigation revealed that the mom was breastfeeding ad lib, wasn’t brushing for the child, and that the family had cavities themselves.

I encouraged brushing at least 2-3 times a day with fluoride toothpaste and showed how to brush. I also discussed decay-causing acids from the frequency of sugary drinks, such as juice, pop, or even milk. Breast milk was the best option for her child so I encouraged continuing on, but really stressed the importance of brushing with fluoride toothpaste, having fluoride varnish done, and taking her child to the dentist. I said if we did these things, her child may not have to have work done in the hospital within the next year or two, and we could keep those cavities “at bay” until the child was able to sit in the dental chair to have the work done.

The next time I spoke with mom, she had taken him to the dentist and was brushing lots with fluoride toothpaste. The dentist had scooped out some decay and burnished the fluoride varnish into the cavitation. The fluoride varnish was done routinely (about every 2-3 months) and the teeth strengthened. We built a relationship of trust through these fluoride varnish appointments. Her child had some dental work done while sitting in the chair at 5 years of age. The upper anterior teeth weren’t involved; it was the back molars that had fillings done. There was no hospital work done and fewer cavities/fillings. Overall, we saw much better outcomes. We still have a trusting relationship when I see her and her family in the community. Now, her children are having children: the next generation. Hopefully there will be more great changes in their dental health and overall health!

Thank you card

Thank you card received by a Certified Dental Assistant.


This is a very special card to me. The inside note says, “You have been an amazing ‘Tooth Fairy’ for us!”

This was given to me by a very grateful young mother. This mom’s 2.5 year old was in urgent need of dental treatment. When they came to me, he had already been on antibiotics and was not sleeping or eating very much. Mom was very worried and did not know where to start to help her son.

Because of some special circumstances, this mom had spent over two years trying to figure out the paperwork to get dental coverage for her son. She had even started some personal fundraising for dental care, but even these funds had to be redirected to a family emergency.

I got involved and supported the many levels of communication required in this case. There was communication to coordinate with a dental office (which took the case knowing that they may not be paid), local government staff for travel arrangements, local and regional administrators, doctors’ offices, Save a Smile program, dental therapist, and a local church.

Ultimately, people worked together and this child received full treatment within one month of their visit with me! The family was not able to pay the dental office in full at the time but the mom is still committed to sending this office extra money as she is able to. Mom is so thankful that her child sleeps and eats well and can run and play as a child should. I see him regularly for fluoride varnish; he is doing very well and will start kindergarten in the fall. He and others like him are why I love my job!


After I graduated as a Certified Dental Assistant and started working, I quickly realized that chair-side assisting wasn’t for me. I wasn’t proud of the work I was doing or the setting I worked in. I job-hopped for a while gaining experience and looking for something that would satisfy my mind. The job-hopping stopped when I was hired as a Public Health Certified Dental Assistant!

Public health has given me the opportunity to use my life skills and personal abilities in my daily work in a way that I wasn’t able to in an office setting. I’ve also had a lot of personal growth in this career. It has come to me through different work experiences such as teaching clients, presenting to groups, coaching clients through oral hygiene changes, learning about statistics and cultures, gaining computer skills, and the freedom to use my creativity to reach people when the “usual” way doesn’t work.

My career as a Public Health Certified Dental Assistant has contributed to me being a well-rounded person with the confidence to tackle whatever is in front of me.

Shirley Gray

About Shirley Gray

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.


Screening & follow-up care to prevent cardiovascular disease in women in Prince Rupert

This article was co-authored by Justine Derksen and Janice Paterson

Doctor in scrubs

Evidence has shown that pregnancy is a great place to evaluate cardiac risk. In Prince Rupert, Dr. Marius Pienaar has developed a screening program and software to identify and support women with cardiovascular risks.

Scientific evidence has shown that pregnancy is a great place to evaluate cardiac risk. In Prince Rupert, Dr. Marius Pienaar, a gynecologist, has developed a screening program and software which uses the data collected during a woman’s pregnancy to assess for cardiovascular risks and to coordinate referral and follow-up to prevent cardiovascular disease.

During the pregnancy, some basic measurements such as blood pressure and weight are recorded and a panel of blood tests are performed, including blood lipids and glucose. This data is then entered into the program to calculate a risk score for future cardiovascular disease. Women with elevated risk are then offered interventions, and their primary care provider is informed of this risk.

We have a golden opportunity to evaluate pregnant women with cardiovascular risk and this should not be missed. -Dr. Marius Pienaar

Dr. Pienaar explains that if a woman has diabetes in pregnancy, she is at a higher risk of having diabetes later in life and should be tested 6 weeks to 6 months after pregnancy. Currently, only about 20% of women are tested after pregnancy. Dr. Pienaar’s new software actively follows his patients and has created a referral and reminder system where every patient can be contacted and given opportunities to attend the North Coast Maternal Health Clinic for evaluation.

Walking in snow with mountain background.

Dr. Pienaar is hoping to make this unique program and software available across the province.

Currently, Dr. Pienaar’s clinic seeks to intervene by providing clinical care to at-risk women as well as offering smoking cessation resources, on-site dietitians and diabetes nurses, and more. 100% of postpartum patients who are screened and are identified as having increased risk are offered the postpartum health clinic visit. The program is expected to increase patient awareness of their own risk of cardiovascular disease and support women to access additional health care services to help reduce their risk.

I am very appreciative of the care and information I received in the North Coast Maternal Health Clinic. This program provided me with valuable information/assessment regarding future health risks. Such insight allows me to intervene early in order to improve my modifiable risk factors and ensure my future health and well-being. -Cherie Harvey-Malthus

The clinic has been a success so far and is very efficient and cost effective. Dr. Pienaar has seen success with this quality improvement project and hopes to make the program and software available across the province. There has already been interest from Fraser Health and the Lower Mainland to emulate the clinic model at other hospitals. This is the first such clinic in B.C. and the first rural clinic in Canada specifically geared to evaluate cardiovascular risk in postpartum patients.

Check out the full version of this article: An Innovative Program in Prince Rupert is Screening and Providing Follow-up Care for Women with Risk for CVD

Justine Derksen

About Justine Derksen

Justine works for Northern Health in Medical Affairs as the Coordinator, Physician Engagement Initiatives in Prince George. Justine loves the north and enjoys the seasonal activities with her husband and adorable Bernese Mountain dog any chance she gets. Justine is currently pursuing her masters of Public Health degree, which she was inspired to pursue through her work with Northern Health. When not at work, Justine enjoys cooking, outdoor recreational activities and crafting.