Healthy Living in the North

I came for… I stayed because… with Melinda Lau

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

Taking in the scenery on the Pouce Coupe Bridge.

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

I came for…

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

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

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

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

I stayed because…

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

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

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

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

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


Learning on the job: finding wellness as a professional physiotherapist

For Christina Conrad, a newly minted physiotherapist based in Prince George, life and wellness can be thought of like a tree.

“It’s important to have lots of different branches on the tree. If each branch represents a facet of your life, then it’s important to have more than one branch. If something upsetting or challenging at work happens (which can happen in health care!), it’s not your whole life and there are other things in life that balance you out. It doesn’t shake your tree that bad.”

I had the opportunity to chat with Christina about life in physio, and how she finds wellness as a professional and as an individual. Here’s what she had to say.

Tell me about life as a new physiotherapist.

woman riding a bike through a desert .I’ve been in my current role for a year and a half at the University Hospital of Northern BC. As a physiotherapist, I’ve worked in many different areas of the hospital. A lot of my day-to-day work involves helping people do the things they need to do daily. Getting out of bed, standing, walking, that kind of thing. It can be very hands-off or very hands-on with someone who is very ill or who has just had a major surgery.

What are your thoughts on wellness?

I learned during my student years about how not to incorporate wellness into your life. Being a student, you don’t necessarily take conscious breaks and I realized I needed to create space outside of work for myself and not necessarily fill that time with more work. I knew if I were to stay in this type of practice long-term, I’d need to be strong physically. The stats show that young workers are at the highest risk for injury, so it’s important to be conscious of that while working. The way I think of it is you need to strengthen your body outside of work so you can be strong at work.

Tell me about a time you had to focus on personal wellness at work.

There was a time at work where I was transferring a patient, when I realized that if I was going to do other transfers safely, I needed to be a lot stronger. In my profession we have a lot of equipment to assist so we’re less likely to be injured, but in that moment I realized, wow I need to join a gym!

After that experience, I realized that I needed to be well in order to help others. You’re not able to do your job well if you’re not taking care of yourself.woman skiing with arms raised high.

How do you incorporate wellness into your work and personal life?

At work I wear a pedometer that tracks my steps. If I haven’t met my step goal by lunch, I make a point to go for a walk. Sometimes I’ll walk or bike to work. Outside of work, I like to go running and mountain biking. We’ve got some great places in Prince George! In the winter, I like to downhill ski, or cross-country ski. I even took lessons this winter! I think living in the north, you have to find ways to enjoy all the seasons. From the physio perspective, there’s a big emphasis on exercise but community and creativity are also important for your wellness. I realized I was lacking creativity in my life so I joined the PG Potters guild. I think it’s important to develop communities outside of work.

Do you have any tips for those looking to enhance wellness on or off the job?

Wearing a pedometer or smart watch to track my steps has been helpful for me. It helps me measure my physical activity and gauge how I’m doing that day. Learning how to balance, the skill for separating work from the rest of life, has also been helpful. I knew starting out that if I wanted to be in this profession long-term, I’d have to learn how to balance. When there are challenges at work and you bring it home, it can carry over into the rest of your life. One of the things that helps me avoid this is walking home. For me it’s about a 30-minute walk. It gives me time to debrief and acts like a timer so that when I get home, I can move on with the rest of my day.


This article was first published in the spring edition of A Healthier You magazine. Check out the full magazine below! 


Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)


Congratulations Karen Skarpnes, NH’s Health Care Hero!

Karen Skarpnes receiving her award.

Karen Skarpnes (centre), 2012 Health Care Hero for Northern Health, pictured with Michael Marchbank, HEABC President & CEO (left) and Betsy Gibbons, HEABC Board Chair (right), receiving her plaque and Gold Apple. (Photo courtesy of

Last week, Northern Health’s very own Karen Skarpnes, was recognized as a Health Care Hero at the Excellence in BC Health Care Awards, presented by the Health Employers Association of BC (HEABC).

Karen is a physiotherapist at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, and started her work there in 1979. You can watch HEABC’s video about the amazing work she does for her community and why she was awarded with the very well-deserved Gold Apple.

I had a conversation with Karen to talk about the award and get her own words about the work she does, the people she works with and the importance of sharing innovations and resources across our province.

How did you come to win this award?

It is a peer-nominated award, so I’m very grateful to my peer who nominated me. It’s a lot of work to put one of those nominations together.

What work and projects have led up to this?

One of the focuses of my practice has been to look for some prevention solutions to various injuries or difficulties that I see a repeating pattern of.

Most recently, I worked with Judy Rae, the oncology nurse in Prince Rupert; Elaine Lohnes, the exercise leader; and Joan Patriquin, an RN and the coach for the Rainbow Warriors, to develop a weight training program for women after breast cancer surgery.  We based that on work that had previously been done, but introducing the program to the Prince Rupert audience. We needed to find funding to do that.

Before that, I was working with frail older adults, along with a colleague, Tanya Boudier, an NH occupational therapist. We felt that frail older adult falls prevention program would be important to introduce to Prince Rupert. Again, this was not our original work, but us taking other work and incorporating it in the Prince Rupert area. Tanya and I managed to get grant money to do a pilot project on falls prevention in the residential care facility. We perceived a need, looked for who had begun this work, and approached them to see if we could get information. In this case, we collaborated with Dr. Vicky Scott, a fabulous researcher in Victoria, who invited us to be part of the BC coalition, a collaborative group on falls prevention in BC.

Even before that, I worked for about 10 years with the local swim program, developing a program with Margaret Harris, another physiotherapist in Prince Rupert. We looked at harm reduction for young competitive swimming around shoulder injuries, and developed a land-based program for preventive stretches and strengthening exercises to encourage better muscle balance and improve posture.

What is this award about to you?

This award is about collaboration and seeking the best practice that we know about that’s out there. There is some fabulous work being done provincially and nationally that we can access easier than 20 years ago and a lot of good folks working in the health authorities that seem willing to share. That’s what keeps me excited.

How was the Awards ceremony?

I felt very honoured to be in a room with the other recipients and their fabulous projects – there is some fabulous work being done around B.C. I think it would be great for others in Northern Health to take a look at that HEABC website to see what our colleagues are doing around the province. It’s another opportunity to network together or contact folks that are doing like work, or work that we’ve recognized could be useful to be applied in our areas.

On behalf of everyone at Northern Health, congratulations Karen!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public 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 manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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)