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.


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.


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.


In focus: Allie Stephen, CBORD Quality Improvement Dietitian, Prince George

Allie Stephen sitting at her desk with a mug that says "Dietitians (heart) food."

After interning with Northern Health in June 2018, Allie Stephen, originally from Ottawa, worked in many different areas of nutrition. I recently talked to her about why she loves being a dietitian and how food services and quality improvement projects can create positive change for staff and patients.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian, and what is CBORD? 

After my internship, I started working at UHNBC [the University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George] as a casual clinical dietitian, and got to work in different areas of the hospital with inpatients and outpatients.

In September, I started at the Northern Health Regional Diet Office in my current role as the CBORD Quality Improvement Dietitian.

CBORD is a food and nutrition computer system used in healthcare – it’s used to facilitate food services in all our hospitals and long term care facilities. Using CBORD, the Regional Diet Office maintains menus, patient/resident diet and allergy information, and supports other CBORD users (including Food Services staff, dietitians, speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists) in managing patient/resident dietary needs.

I really enjoy the variety this position offers, from training CBORD users to enhancing dining experiences in long term care, to implementing international safety standards.

What’s your take on what dietitians do?

There are so many places you can find dietitians! They’re in food service, public health, on primary care teams and in hospitals, but also in grocery stores, private practice, education, and government.

In food services, a dietitian uses scientific evidence to build/manage menus and meet general nutrition needs, with the understanding that there will be (and should be!) adjustments made to further meet individual needs.

No matter where they are, dietitians help make nutrition information practical and meaningful. Being a dietitian comes down to being an advocate for wellness through food.

Could you describe a day in your life as a dietitian?

Every day is different. Usually my day-to-day involves some troubleshooting with CBORD users to make sure patients and residents are receiving meals that are appropriate and safe, while aligning with their preferences and recommendations made by their dietitian or health care team. Often I’m trying to think like the computer – it’s kind of like detective work!

Another big part of my day is regional food/nutrition project work. Right now, for example, my team is working to implement the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative (IDDSI).  Dysphagia means “difficulty swallowing,” and IDDSI is a global initiative to standardize how food and beverages used in dysphagia management are named and described. This will help make sure we’re classifying them consistently, which ultimately promotes mealtime safety and quality of care.

A constant in my role is working alongside the Regional Diet Office, food services, and dietitian teams to look at innovative ways of providing enjoyable meal service to residents and patients.

Food is, after all, a big part of our lives and being able to enjoy our favourite foods is important!  

What’s one thing someone might not know about your role?

I support a lot of the day-to-day use of CBORD, but I also support teams to take on food and nutrition related initiatives and projects. Most of these initiatives have to do with improving services and patient experiences. I love seeing all the initiatives that come to fruition.

What part of your role is the most rewarding?

At every Northern Health location there are people and team members who are so invested in the services they provide to patients and residents – they’re proud of the work they do. At the Regional Diet Office, we support them so they can take on projects that are important to their teams and communities.

For example, in Masset, they recently transitioned to a core menu where they’re doing more scratch cooking and home-made recipes. A lot of care was put into the transition – their dietitian, kitchen staff, recreation staff, and residents were all on board. The change was very well received and everyone involved was very excited to be a part of it.

It’s a great example of how our people are invested in providing the best care they can for patients and residents. I’m really happy to be able to support these kinds of projects and interact with different people across the North. The dietitian and food services teams in particular are great – I have a lot of respect for everyone I’ve been able to learn from and work with. I’m proud to be a Northern Health dietitian!


How to see a registered dietitian

Do you think you or your patients could benefit from talking to a dietitian?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.

Nutrition Month Eating Together contest

During Nutrition Month throughout March, we want to see how you eat together! Organize a date to eat together, show us, and be entered to win an Instant Pot! This could mean grabbing a coffee and scone with a colleague, organizing a lunch date with a friend, having a potluck with family – whatever this means to you! Set a date, eat together, and show us to win! See our Eating Together contest page for complete details.

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)


Our People: Spotlight on Faramarz Kashanchi

Fara on top of a mountain.
Fara at the summit of Mount McKirdy in Valemount, BC.

Faramarz Kashanchi (aka Fara) came a long way to join the Northern Health team! Originally from Iran, Fara moved to Prince George in 2011 and has been at NH for the past six years. Allow us to introduce you to Fara, an NH Outcomes Analyst for Clinical Programs, Planning and Performance Improvement, who has a love of adventure, outdoor activities!

Why did you choose your career?

I love finding stories from data!

What brought you to NH?

When I applied for the outcomes analyst job in Northern Health I just wanted to enter a job related to my statistics degree and as time passed I realized how exciting and helpful it is to be able to combine academic statistics with real world stories.

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

Selfie of Fara on the lift at Powder King, mountains in the background.
Fara at Powder King, Northern BC

It’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. It takes time to reach a happy place in a career, and in the beginning you may not know where that happy place is and that’s okay too.

What do you like about the community you live in?

I’ve lived in Prince George for about eight years now and I love the people and nature. Here I learned how to ski, ice skate, snowshoe, fish, ice fish, kayak, canoe, squash, tennis, yoga, golf… I learned all of them from kind and passionate people in this community!

I came for…

I came to Canada and Prince George for good education and a good job.

…and I stayed because…

I found so much more!

A kayak with a fishing rod on the beach at West Lake at sunset.
West Lake, Prince George, BC.
Darren Smit

About Darren Smit

Darren is the NH Web Specialist on the Communications team. He is a creative at heart, with passion for photography, graphic design, typography, and more. During the past 17 years, he has traveled to over 80 countries worldwide, and he lives in Prince George with his wife and son.


Northern Health MRI Improvements: Shyr Chui and Danita Braun

“Fifteen minutes later I got a call from the MRI booking office, and they told me they wanted me in the next day in the evening… and I was dumbfounded, because I was expecting it to be a 6 week wait for this appointment!”

In this video, we hear from patient Danita Braun, who was thrilled to hear the wait time of her MRI appointment was drastically cut down. Getting the MRI done sooner also meant a change in her care plan which she was thrilled to hear!

Also featured, Shyr Chui, Northern Health Radiologist, mentions how scanning hours have also changed, adding evening times and weekends!

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).


Happy 100th birthday to the Auxiliary to UHNBC!

Lindy Steele and Colleen Nyce with the commemorative plaque.
Lindy Steele, Auxiliary President, receiving the commemorative bronze plaque from Colleen Nyce, Northern Health Board Chair.

Have you ever had the pleasure of celebrating a 100th birthday? I’m lucky enough to say I have – not once, not twice, but three times in my life!

The first centennial I attended was about four years ago, for a lovely lady who I’m sad to say has now passed. The second was a year and a half ago, celebrating a very dear friend, who I’m still lucky enough to visit with on a regular basis. The third was particularly special… and just this past week!

This birthday party was for the Auxiliary to the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia! This organization is run by volunteers, and spends countless hours (over a million during this 100 years) raising money to help the residents of Prince George and surrounding area get the health care they need!

Two Auxiliary members unwrapping the mural.
Two Auxiliary members proudly unwrap the mural that now greets anyone entering UHNBC.

Here’s to 100 more!

The special occasion was celebrated by a number of the auxiliary volunteers, members of the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation, local dignitaries, and residents of Prince George. A beautiful mural now hangs over the auxiliary desk in the main lobby, unveiled during the celebration alongside a bronze plaque commemorating their 100 years of tireless work! The tokens of appreciation were presented to Lindy Steele, Auxiliary President, by Colleen Nyce, Northern Health Board Chair.

In their century of service to the people of Prince George and neighbouring communities, the Auxiliary to UHNBC has donated over $5.5 million and, as previously mentioned, over one million volunteer hours, to help improve health care at UHNBC. Their goal is to provide service to the hospital community by raising funds through the Auxiliary Gift Shop, The Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop, fundraising, and donations. They rely on the support of the community to assist them, and it’s obvious to me this partnership is working!

Humble beginnings

It all started in 1919, in the form of providing linens, drapes, and other incidentals to the hospital. From there, the Auxiliary continued to grow and take on different fundraising opportunities to raise money for necessary items, from linens, to operating equipment, and anything else you can imagine!

UHNBC Auxiliary 100 birthday cake.
Fact: you can’t have a 100th birthday without a cake!

Say hello!

If you’ve ever walked through the doors at UHNBC as patient, a visitor, or as an employee, you’ll have seen Auxiliary volunteers in their pink smocks, or burgundy vests, doing what they do best: helping others.

They’ll direct you to the room of a loved one or the friend you’re visiting, check you in for appointments at clinics, or help you through the gift shop in the hospital atrium, a hidden gem in my opinion!

I believe volunteers are a huge part of what makes this, and any, community thrive. Whether times were good or extremely hard, these volunteers continue to be the smiles that greet you and the helping hands that guide you where you need to go.

Thank you Auxiliary!

The Auxiliary to UHNBC is hosting the British Columbia Association of Health Care Auxiliaries (BCAHA) annual conference and AGM in Prince George in April of this year at the Prince George Civic and Conference Center. I don’t doubt they will all celebrate this milestone, as we all should, with the UHNBC Auxiliary members. If you see one of these wonderful people, please thank them for their service.

Lorrelle Hall

About Lorrelle Hall

Born and raised in Prince George BC, Lorrelle loves her hometown and is proud to be a PG girl, through and through! She and husband Lyn have raised twin daughters, and love being active in the community. Lorrelle works as an Executive Assistant to the Northern Health Communications team, and works closely with the Hospital Auxiliaries and Foundations. When not at work, she loves to spend time with her kids, mother, many siblings, and friends! She loves to volunteer, and travel wherever the sun is shining!


Northern Health MRI Improvements: Marina Downs and Margaret Kostyshyn

“This has increased patient happiness, and the morale of our technologists.”

In this video, Marina Downs, Northern Health Diagnostic Imaging Manager, speaks on how the addition of the MRI machine in Terrace has reduced patient wait times and travel, directly affecting the experience of both staff and patients.

Margeret Kostyshyn, a recent UHNBC patient, mentions how her MRI experience was “very positive,” and how the reassuring staff took away her initial fears of the process.

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).


Northern Health staff and physicians volunteer at the 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships

Laura Elsenheimer offering a tissue to Birgit Skarstein.
Laura Elsenheimer, Chief Technologist at the UHNBC Laboratory, offers a tissue to Birgit Skarstein, who had just finished the middle distance cross-country sit ski race. Skarstein, known as “the smile of Norway” won bronze. The athlete has been paralyzed from the waist down since 2009 as the result of a swimming accident in Malaysia.

World-class athletes are being showcased as Prince George hosts the 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships (WPNSC) February 15 – 24 at the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, and Northern Health (NH) staff and physicians are helping make it happen. 

Many NH staff and physicians are volunteering at the event, donating their time at the Medical and Anti-Doping site, Timing, the Volunteer Centre, Security, the Start/Finish areas, out on the course, and more. As well, Dr. Jacqui Pettersen, a neurologist with the Northern Medical Program, is the Lead for Medical Services.

The event, attended by athletes from 17 countries, is the second biggest for para Nordic sports after the Paralympics. Spectators are welcome – there’s no charge to watch these amazing world-class athletes in action.

Elisabeth Veeken, Volunteer Coordinator for the event, was invited to get involved by the local organizing committee. 

Cheryl Moors helping prep the finish area at the para nordic skiing championships.
Early morning volunteer: Cheryl Moors, RN, Interim CPL on Surgery North at UHNBC, helps prep the finish area on Day 1 of racing.

“I was honoured to be asked. If I’d known better, I would have run screaming the other way!” says Elisabeth, a casual in Recreation Therapy at Northern Health. “It’s a large and time-consuming job, but one that I know will bring me, and I hope others, great satisfaction, when all is said and done.”

Other volunteers concurred. Lory Denluck, an accountant in Northern Health’s Physician Compensation department, enjoyed the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help at such an exciting event being held in my community.”

Elisabeth Veeken standing with Collin Cameron.
Elisabeth Veeken, Volunteer Coordinator for the event, with Collin Cameron, gold medallist for Canada for the men’s sit ski sprints.

Dawn Taylor, a cook at Northern Health’s Rainbow Lodge, wanted to volunteer because she’s a lifelong cross-country skier. “Plus, I’ve also volunteered for Special Olympics and the Caledonia Club for many years,” she says.

And nursing student Melanie Martinson says it gave her “an amazing chance to watch world-class athletes competing in our own home town. It’s so rare to have such a high calibre of athletics in Prince George that it was an opportunity that I simply couldn’t pass up!”

As for Elisabeth, she’s a big supporter of the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club. Volunteering at the WPNSC was a perfect way for her to give back to the club.

“I’m so excited to be part of this amazing event!” she says. 

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!


Northern Health MRI Improvements: Ken Winnig and Karen Eldridge

“About a year ago, we were only able to do about 7,500 MRIs. Today, we’re on target to do over 13,000.”

There’s some pretty exciting MRI news circulating throughout the North! Since the installation of the two new machines in Terrace and Fort St. John, and a new replacement unit in Prince George, the northern region has seen some pretty incredible results.

In this video, Ken Winnig, Northern Health Regional Director of Diagnostic Services, explains the benefits of the new machines. Additionally, hear from Karen Eldridge, a recent patient, who’s been positively impacted!

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).