Healthy Living in the North

I came for… I stayed because… with Andrea Starck

Andrea standing on the shore of a beach at the ocean.

Andrea on the beach in Masset during one of her trips to Haida Gwaii.

I’ve recently noticed that many of the conversations I’ve had with multiple Northern Health staff have uncovered a common theme! These staff members were anticipating coming to the North for a short amount of time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person, Andrea Starck, Regional Director, Education and Training based in Prince George. Andrea is from Vancouver, BC and came to Northern Health in 1989.

I came for…

I had recently gotten married and we were looking to move out of the Lower Mainland. At that time, housing prices were increasing and we couldn’t afford to buy. My husband is an engineer and he was looking for employment in the pulp and paper industry. I was an experienced pediatrics nurse working in the emergency department at BC Children’s Hospital. Once we knew we were moving to Prince George, I called the pediatric floor at what was then Prince George Regional Hospital [now, the University Hospital of Northern BC]. After speaking with the head nurse, I was hired!

Andrea and her husband posing in the snow with their snowshoes on holding trekking poles.

Andrea and her husband Olaf snowshoeing by UNBC.

I stayed because…

I have had so many opportunities for career growth at Northern Health that I may not have had elsewhere. Throughout my nearly 30 years here I have worked in multiple nursing positions including pediatrics, maternity, labour and delivery, neonatal intensive care, public health, home care, and wound care. Using that knowledge and experience, I have been successful moving to different leadership positions including home care educator, professional practice lead, policy coordinator, regional manager of clinical education, and now my current role as regional director of education and training.

Through my different roles, I have been fortunate to travel across the region. I have visited nearly every hospital, health centre, long term care facility, and health unit operated by Northern Health. This has connected me with staff and shown me how they provide care in their community. It’s allowed me to understand what is happening in each community and what makes each community special. Along the way, I’ve built friendships with staff; now, when I travel to a community I’m always welcomed and shown people’s favourite things about their community.

Prince George has been a great place to raise our two children. We are close to nature and can easily go for a hike or snowshoe. Never having lived in such a small place before, it took me a while to get used to not having big city amenities. Over the years we embraced the North and have made this our home.  We’ve found that Northern BC’s wide open spaces, pristine lakes, and large tracts of wilderness are like nowhere else in the world – no traffic, no crowds, and salt-of-the-earth people.

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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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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Thermometers help keep kids out of Dease Lake emergency room

Two staff holding thermometers.
L-R: Amy Bolton, Dease Lake Pregnancy Outreach Coordinator and Anna Fritch, Northern Health Nurse.

When someone goes to the emergency room with a cold or a mild fever, they often end up using some of the time and care needed for people with more urgent health concerns.

Anna Fritch, a nurse in Dease Lake, noticed this trend and decided to do something about it. Her goal was to cut down on the number of unnecessary emergency room visits.

She realized that many people who come to the emergency room don’t have basic health information on how to treat minor illnesses at home.

“I thought, ‘What do I know about taking care of a cold?’ I learned what to do from my mother as a child and how she self-treated us at home,” Anna says.

She realized one problem is that people don’t know where to get health information. Another problem is that people call emergency saying that their child has a fever, but when asked what their temperature is, parents respond that they don’t own a thermometer.

Anna works closely with the pregnancy outreach coordinator in Dease Lake, Amy Bolton. They meet a few times a month to collaborate and share information. When Anna mentioned the issues to Amy, Amy was immediately on board, offering to use some of her budget to buy thermometers.

Anna and Amy now wanted to work out how to give out the thermometers, but also educate people at the same time. They tried to do monthly pre-natal education sessions, but even though Dease Lake is a small town, the turnout wasn’t great.

The next step was to share the information with Dease Lake residents. At a community health fair, Anna provided thermometers, HealthLink BC info on how to take temperatures (children and adults), Northern Health info on treating a child’s fever at home, and a pamphlet from BC Children’s Hospital.

Now, Anna has the same information in her office, along with the thermometers. When a family or an elder comes to the emergency room, she takes the opportunity to educate them about fevers and gives them a thermometer. She teaches them what a fever represents, when to be worried about it, and what to do.

This education “makes a fever less frightening and puts a bit more agency into the hands of families,” says Anna. “People tend to think the moment they’re unwell, there’s nothing they can do.”

“It’s a willingness to partner and support people, but it’s also ‘here’s the tool you need and how to use it.’ These are the situations in which you can help yourself,” says Anna.

Anna says that now, when people call the emergency room to say they’re coming in with a feverish child, they can attach a number to their concern because they’re using a thermometer.

“There’s a difference between hot to the touch and clinically having a fever,” Anna says. “When I did the teachings, I tried to emphasize that ‘I’m giving you the thermometer because when you call me, I want us to be talking about the same thing.’”

Anna and her nursing colleagues are still working on increasing people’s confidence to care for family members themselves. But now, they can objectively measure temperature, which gives Anna and the other nursing staff a talking point to use when they call or come into emergency.

This is a great example of how a simple tool and a little education can help reduce emergency room visits.

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 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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Our People: Shelley Bondy

“I feel like I have a purpose here.” Find out what makes Prince Rupert so special for Shelley Bondy (Manager, Perioperative Services and Registered Nurse).

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Specialist, Content Development and Engagement at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.

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Rural Nursing: A Love Story

chetwynd nursing team outside in fall weather

Teammates and friends! LPN Darlene, RN Bradt, RN Stephanie, MRT Megan.

“Why Chetwynd?”

“What’s in Chetwynd?”

“Can’t you find work in Prince George?”

These are all frequent questions that I’m faced with after I tell my friends and family where I work.

I know, it’s odd for a 24-year-old new graduate nurse to leave her home town of Prince George, a place of roughly 80,000 people, and move to a community of 2,500. So yeah… I can understand why these questions come up.

Let me tell you: “Why Chetwynd.”

Picture this: I’m commuting to work, and I barely get through two songs on the radio because the whole drive is a staggering five minutes – including my Timmies run. Upon my triumphant arrival, I’m greeted by every staff member, and I mean everyone, in the hospital (*cue Cheers theme song*).

You might think I’m being sarcastic, but the part I truly cherish most about my job is the friendships that I’ve made in the past year and a half. Working in a rural facility means that the x-ray department isn’t just the x-ray department; it’s made up of friends that you go out for wings with, and people whose strengths and weaknesses you know. You begin to appreciate not only the teamwork of your department, but of the healthcare team as a whole.

steph goulet with her team in chetwynd.

Steph and her team of physicians: Dr. Sadeer Hanoosh, Dr. Rafal Banas, and Dr. Osamah Hanoosh.

Another rural nursing benefit that I really enjoy is the amount of time I get to spend with patients. I always hear from friends who work in larger facilities that the patient turn-over rate is so high, you don’t really get time to see a full picture of your patients. In Chetwynd, not only do I often get to triage, treat, and admit clients, but I also get to follow through with their care.

I’ve enjoyed getting to see the whole picture, and I can confidently say that this continuity of care has given me a solid foundation in my overall client care-planning skills.

Though I’m leaving Chetwynd to return home while I specialize in emergency nursing, I won’t forget the experiences and knowledge that I’ve gained from being the “everything nurse.” I can’t imagine what my nursing practice would look like without the mentorship and guidance of the physicians and nursing staff in this awesome little community.

I plan to bring the positivity of rural nursing wherever I go, and I’d like to thank everyone at the Chetwynd Hospital, Primary Care Clinic, and BC Ambulance for their welcoming environment, and genuine good times. I’d proudly recommend Chetwynd to anyone looking for a great rural healthcare experience, and will look back on my time spent here fondly, with a permanent smile!

About Stephanie Goulet

Stephanie is a Registered Nurse with Northern Health.

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Primary and Community Care transformation is hard: How one nurse changed her perspective

An NH Connections bus parked out front of the Mackenzie & District Hospital & Health Centre.

An NH Connections bus parked out front of the Mackenzie & District Hospital & Health Centre.

At first, changing the way she worked seemed like a terrible idea.

“I don’t like change and I knew I was retiring soon,” Kathy Sloan says.

She was not interested in going through a major career shift.

Kathy, 64, had been a Home and Community Care (HCC) nurse in Mackenzie for 17 years. She mainly worked alone, consulting with the Health Services Administrator on complex issues.

The new way of working, in an integrated primary and community care model, would mean she had to start working on an interprofessional team and in a different way with the primary care physicians.

Kathy didn’t see the benefit.

“I’ve always worked as a team,” Kathy says. “I had easy access to everyone and the doctors and other nurses were always close by.”

“I was in a groove in my role,” she adds. “I resisted the change so much that I wore a groove right in the pavement!”

But when Kathy realized that this new way of working was here to stay, she decided to shift her perspective.

“I started to think about the clients and the people I’m serving,” Kathy says. “If the change is better for them, then I need to get on board.”

Fast-forward a year or so, and now Kathy is on an interprofessional team that she describes as “great,” with “awesome support” for each other.

Kathy has seen many benefits from the new team approach.

“Everyone gets on board [to help the patient] quicker,” she says. “As we work together, it’s so fruitful.”

Other benefits Kathy has seen from working in an interprofessional team:

  • The team is very client-focused.
  • It’s amazing what comes out of team huddles in only a half-hour period.
  • Everyone is contributing – community paramedics, primary care nursing, life skills worker, doctor, mental health counsellors, etc.
  • There is more awareness of serving the client and helping out other team members.

“I really felt defensive to the change at first,” Kathy says. “It made me question, was I doing my job properly?”

But in the end she came to realize that the changes were not about her, they were about the people we are here to serve. Kathy has a great team lead in Mackenzie who has been supportive throughout the process and collaboration is so much easier now.

To anyone who is new to the work, or maybe even struggling with the change, Kathy suggests to just “keep going, you are always developing and changing at work, as a person and in life. There are good leaders out there that will help you in your transitions, connect with them, share your frustrations, ask for help and push past your comfort zone and take a chance on moving forward!”

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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Why skin-to-skin care is important for your baby’s well-being

Have you ever thought about having your baby skin-to-skin with you after birth and in the first few weeks after birth? Many parents have never thought about holding their baby skin-to-skin until they are pregnant and skin-to-skin is mentioned as an option right after birth. Often the reaction at that time is “Yuck. Can you at least dry the baby off first?”

Most of us don’t think about the millions and millions of bugs (flora) that are on and in our body until we are asked about skin-to-skin. However, this flora, making up our own unique ecosystems, is absolutely essential for health and well-being. So how does a baby acquire flora?

mother holding breastfeeding baby

Babies need repeated doses of skin-to-skin to help develop a healthy body ecosystem.

Babies come out of a relatively sterile environment so they need to be colonized by healthy bugs, rather than ones that can cause them to get sick. Most babies delivered vaginally get a healthy dose of good bugs during the delivery process, although this is just some of the flora they need. Babies born via caesarean section are less likely to get these bugs and more likely to pick up other ones from their surroundings.

Developing a healthy range of good bugs is important for all babies. One of the easiest ways for babies to get a range of healthy flora is from being skin-to-skin with a parent right after birth. If parents are not available, then other family members work almost as well, as families share many bugs in common. Spending time skin-to-skin right after birth is important but it is also important in the days and weeks after birth as babies need repeated doses of skin-to-skin to help develop a healthy body ecosystem.

Spending time skin-to-skin is not just about introduction to healthy bugs; here are some other benefits:

  • Skin-to-skin helps babies maintain their temperature.
  • Skin-to-skin helps maintain adequate sugar levels in their bloodstream.
  • Skin-to-skin helps develop normal breathing patterns quicker after birth.
  • Babies cry less often if they spend time skin-to-skin.
  • Babies often breastfeed better if they spend time skin-to-skin. For babies who are not breastfeeding, spending time skin-to-skin is particularly helpful because they cannot pick up a parent’s flora as easily as they are usually not right against a parent’s skin like babies who breastfeed.

We encourage you to think about spending time skin-to-skin with your baby so your baby can develop a healthy body ecosystem at the same time as you get to know your baby.

About Jane Ritchey

Jane Ritchey was previously the Interim Executive Lead for the Perinatal Program. (Jane has recently retired from Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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