Healthy Living in the North

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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What brought you to the North? A Q & A with Shannon McRae, Nurse Practitioner

Shannon posing at UNBC.

Shannon at UNBC in Prince George for the Nurse Practitioner Face-to-Face Gathering in April 2018. “It was a great opportunity to connect with my colleagues from across the region,” she says.

Shannon McRae, a family Nurse Practitioner (NP), is a relatively new graduate, having been an NP for over a year. She works in Fort St. John in a private family practice with a team of physicians.

What do you like about being an NP?

I initially went to school to be a registered nurse, then worked in the emergency department for seven years. You don’t spend a lot of time there getting to know your patients — you treat the ailment that brought them in, then send them home. I wanted the opportunity to be more involved in the long-term care of patients.

As an NP, I get to spend more time with patients, getting to know them and helping keep them healthy. It lets you have an impact in their lives, and you feel like you’re improving the overall health of the community.

Shannon standing on a cliff above the river with a fishing pole.

Shannon fishing in the Besa River in Redfern-Keily Provincial Park, a remote area north of Fort St John that can only be reached on horseback or by using all-terrain vehicles.

What made you choose Fort St. John?

I’m from Fort St. John and I grew up here. I enjoy the size of the community and the type of lifestyle you have living here.

You have quick access to lots of outdoor activities including camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, and river boating. Our airport has multiple flight options so if you like to travel, you can easily get to your destination. Plus, my commute to work is only five minutes!

What do you like about working in Fort St. John?

I’m fortunate to work with a great group of health care providers!

Our physicians are really supportive, and they’re a great group of people. I enjoy working with our interprofessional team too – it’s a group of nurses, dietitians, social workers, and mental health professionals.

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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Where can nursing take you? Discover Erin Wilson’s journey

Erin Wilson in the bushes, hiking.Nursing is one of the most rewarding careers in health care: You can work in a variety of areas and the opportunities for career advancement are endless. Erin Wilson’s nursing career of nearly 20 years has taken her across Western Canada and down many educational paths.

Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, Erin had an experience that helped shape her career choice: “A man with an intellectual disability worked with my dad. He was the most kind and generous person. He went to the hospital with calf pain and was sent home — his concerns were not validated. He ended up dying because of an undiagnosed blood clot. The unfair feeling of not being heard when asking for help has never left me.”

The many different career options available to nurses also appealed to Erin. “I wanted a career with a lot of opportunities. With nursing, you can work in hospitals or rural communities. You can also teach and conduct research.”

After graduating with her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, Erin worked in Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba. This was a valuable learning opportunity for Erin on the inequalities and inequities faced by many First Nations communities.

“It was a fly-in community where only 30% of the residents had running water. We had to take a boat to get to the store,” she said. “I learned a lot about access to care, safe housing, and how systems impact people.”

After leaving Red Sucker Lake, Erin worked at other two-nurse stations in BC and in tertiary care in Manitoba. Tertiary care is a high level of hospital care that requires specialized equipment and knowledge.

In 2004, Erin enrolled in a Master’s of Science in Nursing – Nurse Practitioner (NP) program at UBC in Vancouver, while living and working in the Yukon during the summer months. She registered as a NP in BC in 2006, but didn’t move back to the province until late 2007, becoming one of the first nurse practitioners hired by Northern Health, where she worked at the Central Interior Native Health Society in Prince George.

In 2011, looking to further her research capacity, Erin was accepted into the first cohort of UNBC’s PhD in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences. She defended her dissertation in 2017 and is currently an assistant professor at UNBC’s School of Nursing. She also continues to practice one day a week as an NP.

“Practice is an essential link between teaching and research. It allows me to be engaged with what’s happening in our community and patient experiences while maintaining my practice,” said Erin. She’s currently involved with research studies examining NP practice, rural nursing, health inequities, and implementation science.

Not all nursing careers are the same, and Erin’s is a prime example of that. Her education and experience have taken her to various roles across Western Canada. What will she do next? Only time will tell!

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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On-site health clinic provides a range of services to students at UNBC

Kara Hunter posing at UNBC.University students are in a unique situation. For most, it’s the first time they’ve lived away from home. On top of that, they’re trying to navigate their studies, and most don’t have a local health care provider. Simple health concerns can become more serious while they try to figure out where to get help.

To help keep students healthy, the on-site Health Services Clinic at the University of Northern British Columbia’s (UNBC) main campus in Prince George has a strong team of health care professionals that can meet most student health care needs:

  • Counsellors
  • General practitioner physician
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Occupational therapist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Registered nurses
  • Registered psychiatric nurse

Among the services the clinic provides are physical and mental health assessments and treatment, immunizations, health care for sexual and reproductive issues, and chronic disease management.

One of the dedicated team members is Nurse Practitioner Kara Hunter, who has worked at Northern Health for over 20 years. Most of her career was spent as a registered nurse in critical care. After completing her master’s degree, she starting work as a nurse practitioner in 2015.

“In this clinic, we can make a huge impact with students and their overall wellness,” says Kara. “Typically each provider sees between 15 and 20 students a day. On extremely busy days we can see up to 25. Appointments are scheduled, and twice a week we offer drop-in times.”

Due to the recent opioid crisis, the team has devoted a lot of time to training students to use naloxone kits. Kits were distributed to students so they could administer the drug to anyone potentially overdosing.

“This past September and October, we trained over 100 students and residence advisors on how to administer naloxone,” says Kara. “We want to make sure that if someone does overdose, students know how to help.”

Another area Kara works in is sexual and reproductive health: “In 2019, we’re trialing group appointments, specifically targeting contraceptive counselling and the use of intrauterine (IUD) devices,” she says.

There’s no limit on the number of students that can attend each group appointment. Students who want more information after the group appointment can book a follow-up appointment at the clinic.

Thanks to the on-site clinic, UNBC students have one less thing to worry about when they arrive in Prince George. For more information, visit the Wellness Centre Health Services 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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Who are nurse practitioners and what do they do?

Helen Bourque, Northern Health Nurse Practitioner Lead.
Helen Bourque, Northern Health Nurse Practitioner Lead

You’ve arrived at the medical clinic for an appointment. Staff are helping other patients. You’re not sure what their role is on the health care team. Someone calls your name; you’re led into a room and told someone will be in to see you shortly.

A few minutes later, in walks someone, who says, “Hi, I’m the nurse practitioner. How can I help you?”

Who are nurse practitioners and what do they do?

The BC College of Nursing Professionals defines them as “registered nurses with experience and advanced nursing education at the master’s level, which enables them to autonomously diagnose, treat, and manage acute and chronic physical and mental illness. As advanced practice nurses, they use in-depth nursing and clinical knowledge to analyze, synthesize, and apply evidence to make decisions about their clients’ healthcare.”

This advanced level of education gives nurse practitioners the skills and knowledge to give you a wide range of health services, including:

  • Doing complete physical and mental health exams
  • Ordering blood work and diagnostic imaging (e.g., x-rays, ultrasounds), and interpreting the results
  • Diagnosing and treating physical and psychological diseases and conditions
  • Prescribing and monitoring medications and treatments
  • Referring patients to a specialist or to other health care professionals

At Northern Health, we have 35 nurse practitioners (NPs) providing care in 26 communities across the region.

“NPs provide care for patients in a number of different settings. This includes primary health care clinics, First Nations health centres, family practice offices, and more,” says Helen Bourque, Northern Health Nurse Practitioner Lead. “They provide clinical care, but they’re also committed to education, research, and leadership. As a member of the health care team, they work with many people in a variety of ways. They also help prevent illness or disease by providing health education and counselling to patients.”

NPs are a valuable part of the health care team, and they can treat patients with a variety of concerns. The next time a member of your health care team introduces themselves as a nurse practitioner, you’ll have a better understanding of their role and how they can help you.  

For more information on Nurse Practitioners, visit the Northern Health, British Columbia College of Nursing Professionals or British Columbia Nurse Practitioner Association websites.

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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Our People: Spotlight on Cheryl Dussault

Cheryl Dussault sitting at her desk.

Congratulations to Cheryl Dussault for 30 years of service at Northern Health! Cheryl is a nurse practitioner in Prince George. She works at the CNC Health and Wellness Centre and for UNBC Health Services, two clinics that provide primary health care to students.

Why did you choose your career?

As far as I can remember, I wanted to be a nurse. I come from a family of nurses and that’s what I had my mind set on. I came to Prince George from a small community to do the nursing diploma at the College of New Caledonia. I thrive on providing patient care and working in that kind of environment. Eventually, I wanted to further my education and becoming a nurse practitioner allowed me to do that and stay closely connected to patient care. I graduated as a nurse practitioner in 2015 from the program at UNBC.

How did you end up at NH?

There are different opportunities at Northern Health as a nurse. My plan was to return to my hometown when I graduated from the nursing program, but I realized I liked working in the hospital in Prince George. I wanted to get more experience, and 30 years later, here I am. The community definitely grew on me.

What would you say to anyone wanting to get into your kind of career?

If you enjoy being challenged, becoming a nurse practitioner is for you! It was quite a shift for me after being a nurse in the hospital for the majority of my career. Being a nurse practitioner, I have more autonomy and it’s very rewarding. I feel part of a larger community and still get to be part of patient care improvements. I like that I see people now to try to prevent them from going to the hospital. At the clinics at CNC and UNBC, we see a lot of students from other communities that don’t have a family doctor or nurse practitioner in town, and we deal with a lot of international students. They bring a different set of challenges because of language barriers and being from different cultures.

What do you like about living in Prince George?

I like that there’s a variety of services available and that it’s a very welcoming community. When I moved here for my schooling, I was overwhelmed by how nice people are here. There are also lots of resources for people raising a family. It’s large enough so you have what you need, but also close to bigger cities.

What’s your favourite thing to do outside work?

I’m very family oriented, I have two young grandsons. And I like to help at the local soup kitchen.

Bailee Denicola

About Bailee Denicola

Bailee is a communications advisor in the Primary Care Department and was born and raised in Prince George. She graduated from UNBC with an anthropology degree and loves exploring cultures and learning about people. When not at work, Bailee can be found hanging out with her dogs, building her house with her husband, or travelling the world.

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Our People: Spotlight on Kara Hunter

Kara Hunter in a snowy outdoors.

Kara Hunter is a nurse practitioner (NP) in Prince George and has been working for Northern Health (NH) for 20 years – congratulations to Kara on two decades of service! She works at the CNC Health and Wellness Centre and for UNBC Health Services. These clinics provide primary health care to students.

Why did you choose your career?

I fell into nursing as it was convenient and offered at the College of New Caledonia, in Prince George. I never intended to be a nurse, but loved caring for people once I started. Nursing has allowed me to travel the world, balancing family and professional life. Through my years of nursing I have worked surgical, internal medicine, emergency and intensive care.

In my years of critical care nursing, I was discouraged by the sheer amount of preventable chronic disease that crossed my path. In 2010, I started graduate studies at Athabasca University to become a Nurse Practitioner. My goal is to reduce the burden of chronic disease by engaging people to become owners and advocates of their personal health. I currently work full time for NH as an NP.

What’s your favourite thing to do outside work?

Travelling and spending time with my family engaged in some form of outdoor activity – hiking, skiing, camping. Our most recent adventure took us to Australia to live abroad for a year.

How did you end up at NH?

I applied to NH as my husband had work in Prince George. In 1998, I was hired as a casual RN on the surgical wards.

Bailee Denicola

About Bailee Denicola

Bailee is a communications advisor in the Primary Care Department and was born and raised in Prince George. She graduated from UNBC with an anthropology degree and loves exploring cultures and learning about people. When not at work, Bailee can be found hanging out with her dogs, building her house with her husband, or travelling the world.

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