Healthy Living in the North

Excellence in Northern Health nursing: Barb Schuerkamp and Linda Keefe

I recently joined the Northern Health team and one of the first emails that I received was a news release about six award-winning nurses working in northern communities. The nurses received Nursing Excellence Awards from the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia (CRNBC) at a gala in the fall. It was a real treat to be able to spend part of my first few days at Northern Health talking to some of these award-winning professionals.

With so many diverse experiences and communities being recognized, I wanted to know what the award meant to each of the winners. Also, as a relatively new resident in northern B.C., I was excited to hear what these nurses enjoyed most about the region. This week, I’m excited to share what I learned from two of the award winners and next week, I’ll share the insights of two more exceptional Northern Health nurses.

Barb Schuerkamp holding award.

Barb Schuerkamp was one of six Northern Health nurses who were recognized with Nursing Excellence Awards from the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia.

Barb Schuerkamp, head nurse, Tumbler Ridge

What does this award mean to you?

The gala event was very elegant and I had many colleagues and friends who were able to attend, so the day itself was special. As for the award, there is really no greater honour than being recognized by the professional body to which you belong so I was humbled because it is my peers who nominated me for the award. For me, it feels like this award is the gift that keeps on giving because after the gala, the CRNBC shared the letters of support with me so I was able to read about how my peers perceive my work and service, which was a truly special experience.

What do you enjoy most about working in northern B.C.?

For me, it is the people and the geography. Working in northern B.C. allows you to develop close relationships with your working team. In Tumbler Ridge, we have two doctors, two lab techs, and four nurses and we have created a very cohesive team with a lot of mutual respect amongst team members. We focus on getting the job done and everyone checks their ego at the door, which is a great environment to work in. What is especially neat is to see how visiting professionals and doctors on locum also fall into this culture.

In addition to the people, I love the beauty and peacefulness of our region. Northern B.C. is a great place to recharge your batteries and to stay centered. Tumbler Ridge has amazing trails and dinosaur tracks and I see deer ambling up and down our streets all the time. Our whole staff team loves the outdoors and there is lots of team support to meld work and the outdoors. I think that this is unique to northern B.C. What’s more, in October, with the dedication and hard work of a group of citizens, Tumbler Ridge and a large surrounding area were declared an international UNESCO Geopark. We’re only the second Geopark in North America and this designation provides an opportunity for us to pursue a new level of tourism and local engagement that celebrates our history, geography, natural resources, people, and more!

Professionally, I love the challenges of northern B.C. I’ve been a nurse for 38 years and have spent the last 27 with Northern Health. What I like about small northern communities is that you need to be a generalist in order to respond to various emergencies. Because of the incredibly diverse nature of medical situations in northern B.C., I get to be creative and think about things differently, which keeps things very interesting.

Linda Keefe holding award

Linda Keefe was one of six Northern Health nurses who were recognized with Nursing Excellence Awards from the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia.

Linda Keefe, HIV/AIDS prevention program coordinator, Prince George

What does this award mean to you?

This award was a huge honour for me because I was nominated by my peers. For me, this is particularly meaningful because it is my peers who truly understand the complexity of the clients and their environments in which we work. So, to be recognized for the work that I’ve done by folks who know this particular and complex context is really special and validating, as a nurse.

What do you enjoy most about working in northern B.C.?

What I enjoy most about working in northern B.C. is the fact that I get to wear a number of different hats. This is home for myself and my family. Having grown up in northern B.C., I bring several perspectives to my work. I’m a nurse (health care service provider), a member of the community, a health care consumer, a parent, a daughter, and more. Because I approach my work with all of these different hats on, when I’m working with individuals, I’m able to look at their care needs through a variety of perspectives. It also allows for me to consider health care provision through the lens of impact on an individual and the larger community. This ties to the relevance of individualized care, to the bigger picture of health care delivery in northern B.C. I really enjoy this part of my work.


In all, six Northern Health nurses won Nursing Excellence Awards: Lisa Cox, Celia Evanson, Linda Keefe, Leslie Murphy, Barb Schuerkamp, and Valerie Waymark. Visit the CRNBC website to read their full bios.

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.)

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NH Stories: Caring for patients in Quesnel

Bonnie MacKenzie is a peri-operative nurse at GR Baker Memorial Hospital in Quensel. In this video, she shares her story about how she cares for patients and why this is important to her. Specifically, she feels that respect is at the centre of good, quality patient care.

Do you know of an NH staff member who goes above and beyond? Share your story with us in the comments below.

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.

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Men: why not nursing?

men, nursing, career

Nursing is a rewarding career for everyone!

In 2012 my partner and I made a major change in our lives: we moved 4000 kms from London, Ontario to Prince George, British Columbia. Sarah had just finished her Bachelor of Education at The University of Western Ontario (where I had finished a Bachelor of Arts degree one year earlier) and she was eager to start teaching. Knowing the difficulty of finding full-time employment as an elementary school teacher, we acknowledged the need to search for opportunities across the country. School District 57 was the first school board to interview Sarah for a full-time position. As luck would have it, she started her dream job in September 2012 as a grade one teacher at École Lac Des Bois in Prince George – and I tagged along with her.

Living in northern B.C. has been a motivating and transformative way to start life on our own, even though life is especially challenging in your 20s (as most 20-somethings will agree). Having left our family and friends in Ontario, we’ve had to fend for ourselves. Sarah has had to adjust to professional life and I have had to cope with the loss of my father and both my grandmothers. Still – the end result of moving to Prince George is that we have developed new strengths, new interests, new friends, and new goals.

Like many 20-somethings, Sarah and I have always wanted to build a rewarding and meaningful life. But a year ago, this desire forced me to face a problem: I needed to reinvent myself in Prince George in order to build the life I wanted. I had to balance the reality of needing an income with my desires to live a good life and to make the world a better place.

men, nursing, career

Normalizing a nursing career for men.

So I recently decided to work toward building the life I wanted by being more vulnerable and by using my strengths. I’ve always known that, for work, I wanted a vocation – not just employment. I want to go to work knowing that I’m uniquely fit for what I do, that my skills are truly needed, and that what I do matters. It’s important to me that my actions have an immediate and obvious consequence, that they help other people, and that they relieve suffering rather than contribute to it. If I had a choice, I’d prefer not to wear a suit – definitely not a tie – and I’d prefer to be on my feet rather than behind a desk. And frankly, if I can’t have the above, then I’d rather not work at all!

Fortunately, there are people that – every day – do the kind of work I desire. They’re called nurses. When I finally recognized it – when I truly appreciated the kind of work nurses do – I wanted to do it, too. And that’s how I decided, about a year ago, that I wanted to be a nurse.

Now – for those that know me – the reason I want to be a nurse is obvious. Yet most people ask me “why do you want to be a nurse? Why nursing?” I am tempted to answer their question with another question: why not nursing? Instead, I usually answer their sense of surprise with the truth.

 

I say that I want to be active and feel needed; I want to be on my feet; I want to help others, I want to solve problems and think critically, I want to be vulnerable and brave, I want to teach others, I want to promote health and well-being, I want to advocate for basic rights, and I want to be a lifelong learner.

 

If I can earn an income doing all of the above, then that’s great. That’s my reasoning – and I won’t apologize if it’s not profound enough for a culture still unaccustomed to male nurses.

Of course, like other males in nursing, the reason I’m asked so often about choosing nursing is simply because I’m a male. Unfortunately, men are still unusual in nursing. Most males do not seem to want to become nurses (they’re just not going to school for it). However, I have a hunch that most males never even realize that nursing is an option for them.

Speaking for my gender, the idea of nursing as a viable, rewarding, and respectable career for a man just does not occur to us (at least not early enough). Most of us are still inclined to think of nursing as a woman’s job, something a “real” man has no business doing, and that’s probably just another sad result of a culture that overinflates gender differences. Regardless, speaking for males generally, nursing is rarely (if at all) recommended to us by others. The few of us that do choose nursing are finding it on our own, and I think that’s a problem.

I am writing with the hope that we can change this, and change it quickly. For the same reasons that we need more female scientists, engineers, and architects, we need more male nurses.

So the next time you have the chance to offer some career advice to a male – especially an adolescent male – I am hoping you’ll ask them: why not nursing?

What are your thoughts about men in nursing? Share your comments with us below.

Andrew Gregory

About Andrew Gregory

Born and raised in London, Ontario, Andrew has lived in Prince George for two years, where he enjoys cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, hiking, and exploring the surrounding area. He is a vegetarian who loves cooking, reading, and learning. Andrew is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, and he is currently enrolled in the Northern Collaborative Baccalaureate Nursing Program offered by UNBC and CNC.

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A focus on our people: Partnerships for better care

In the latest CEO video blog, Cathy is excited to highlight one of the exceptional partnerships that exist to help Northern Health provide high quality services to northerners. In this example, Cathy speaks with Christa Keating and Tanya Schilling about partnering with UNBC and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to provide men’s health screening at Maher Terminals in Prince Rupert, B.C.

Cathy Ulrich

About Cathy Ulrich

Cathy became NH president and chief executive officer in 2007, following five years as vice president, clinical services and chief nursing officer for Northern Health. Before the formation of Northern Health, she worked in a variety of nursing and management positions in Northern B.C., Manitoba, and Alberta. Most of her career has been in rural and northern communities where she has gained a solid understanding of the unique health needs of rural communities. Cathy has a nursing degree from the University of Alberta, a master’s degree in community health sciences from the University of Northern BC, and is still actively engaged in health services research, teaching and graduate student support.

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A focus on our people: Employed student nurse program

In the latest CEO video blog, Cathy takes a look at the employed student nurse program and talks to Serena Lundquist, a UNBC nursing student who participated in the program, and Andrea Starck, NH lead, professional practice.

Cathy Ulrich

About Cathy Ulrich

Cathy became NH president and chief executive officer in 2007, following five years as vice president, clinical services and chief nursing officer for Northern Health. Before the formation of Northern Health, she worked in a variety of nursing and management positions in Northern B.C., Manitoba, and Alberta. Most of her career has been in rural and northern communities where she has gained a solid understanding of the unique health needs of rural communities. Cathy has a nursing degree from the University of Alberta, a master’s degree in community health sciences from the University of Northern BC, and is still actively engaged in health services research, teaching and graduate student support.

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