Healthy Living in the North

Celebrating the 24-year career of Chetwynd’s Irene Stoyles

A woman in a pink shirt with a stethoscope around her neck stands outside in a parking lot in front of a building.After a long and productive career as a Respiratory Therapist, Irene Stoyles has decided to move on to the next chapter of her life and retire.

Originally from Newfoundland, Irene began her career as a teacher before making the switch to respiratory therapy in 1993, in the St. John’s neonatal unit. She moved to Chetwynd, BC in 1994 and started working at the local hospital in 1995 as the staff respiratory therapist.

Irene says before she joined the team, there was no respiratory therapy department in Chetwynd, and she helped to advance this area a lot. For example, Irene was the first qualified asthma educator and the first COPD educator in the Northeast, and she created a home sleep program to diagnose sleep apnea, making Chetwynd General Hospital the first hospital North of Kelowna to do this, which allowed people to be diagnosed in their own home, as opposed to traveling south.

“We were able to do quite a bit with a limited amount of resources,” says Irene. “We were able to decrease the number of respiratory patients that needed to visit Emerg, basically by starting an education program. We put asthma and COPD patients into an ongoing monitoring and education program, which, in two years, decreased the number of respiratory patients by 30%.

“It was quite an accomplishment being able to do that,” says Irene.

Irene won the CAREstream Respiratory Excellence Award in 2015, from the BC Society of Respiratory Therapists, having been nominated by her peers, which, she says, was a very nice recognition.

“The knowledge and skill she gained from her earlier career choice served physicians and staff well over her twenty-four year tenure with Northern Health,” says Peter Martin, Health Service Administrator, Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge. “She frequently provided informal in-service opportunities to her colleagues and was often consulted as a resource and mentor regarding patients experiencing severe respiratory distress.”

After retirement, Irene plans on continuing to work within sleep medicine in the outreach work she does with asthmatic children in the Dominican Republic for four months per year.

And she’ll be back! Irene plans on working casually in Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, and Hudson’s Hope in the New Year.

“My tenure with Northern Health in Chetwynd has been interesting and fulfilling, and I would do it again!” says Irene.

“Thank you for your years of service, Irene,” says Peter. “We all look forward to seeing you back soon!”

Please join us in wishing Irene Stoyles a happy retirement!

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)


Well wishes to two retiring NH Board Directors

Northern Health’s Board of Directors recognized two retiring long-time members at its latest regular meeting held in Prince George this week.

Director Ben Sander from Dawson Creek, and Director Maurice Squires from the Nisga’a Valley, have been members of the NH Board since 2012, and their terms expire December 31. Both were recognized by Board Chair Colleen Nyce for service to health care in the North.

“Ben and Maurice have made valuable contributions to the strategic direction of Northern Health over the past six years,” said Nyce. “We thank them for sharing their individual expertise and points of view for the benefit of health care in the North, and wish them all the best as they retire from this service.”

Retiring Director Maurice Squires sitting between NH CEO Cathy Ulrich and Board Chair Colleen Nyce.

Retiring Director Maurice Squires (centre) from Nisga’a Valley, with NH CEO Cathy Ulrich (left) and Board Chair Colleen Nyce (right).

Retiring Director Ben Sander sitting in between NH CEO Cathy Ulrich and Board Chair Colleen Nyce.

Retiring Director Ben Sander (centre) from Dawson Creek, with NH CEO Cathy Ulrich (left) and Board Chair Colleen Nyce (right).

Eryn Collins

About Eryn Collins

Eryn Collins has been with Northern Health for more than 12 years, as a member of the Communications team, a coordinator for NH Health Emergency Management, and as the current Acting Regional Manager of Public Affairs & Media Relations. Eryn enjoys learning about, and increasing public awareness of, the valuable work of NH staff in a broad range of program and service areas that support health care needs across Northern BC - her home since 1998. Outside of work, Eryn enjoys time with family and friends, and raising a young son to love this part of BC as much as she does.


Northern Doctor’s Day: Honoured retirees

Retiring doctors posing at a recent baquet.The 42nd Annual Northern Doctor’s Day retirees’ banquet was held on November 2 to honour physicians retiring in Prince George. Congratulations to the retiring doctors, and thank you for your years of serving Northerners!

Back row (L -R): Dr. Donald MacRitchie, Dr. John Smith, Dr. Bill Simpson, Dr. John Ryan, Dr. Jan Burg (Retirees), and Dr. Amin Lakhani (President of the Prince George Medical Staff Association)

Front row (L – R): Dr. Tony Preston (Prince George Medical Director), Dr. Marie Hay (Retiree), Dr. Ian Schokking (UHNBC Department Head Family Practice, Continuing Medical Education Physician Lead), Dr. Laura Brough (UHNBC Chief of Staff)


Sanja Knezevic

About Sanja Knezevic

Sanja is a communications advisor with Northern Health’s medical affairs department and is based in Prince George. She moved to Canada in 1995 from former Yugoslavia to Fort Nelson where she lived for a few years before moving to Prince George in 2000. Sanja enjoys photography, curling up with a good book, cooking and spending time with her friends and family.


Diagnosis: Retiring. Here’s what retirement looks and feels like to two long term Prince George doctors.

As my co-worker, Bailee, and I walked down the street to meet up with and interview Drs. Garry and Susan Knoll, we jokingly bantered back and forth what we would do if we were retiring. The Knolls have been family doctors in Prince George for over 25 years, and they’ve finally made the decision to retire. Susan officially left her practice at the end of September and Garry is hoping to be done at his practice by January 2019.

“I bet they’re popping a big ol’ bottle of champagne and sailing to Tahiti!” I exaggerated.

Bailee, a tad more realistic than myself, mentioned something about being leaders in the medical community… something something? My mind was on a sailboat in Tahiti.

But, moments into the interview, I soon discovered, and probably should have predicted, Bailee was right. Even though the Knolls are parting from their full-time practices, the two doctors still have their stethoscopes on the heartbeat of the medical community. Here’s what each of them had to say on the topic of “retiring.”

susan knoll sitting on a bench with a statue, eating ice cream.What will you miss about practicing full time?


I’ll miss my patients. I’ve been looking after them for 20+ years. We have a relationship with each other and we’ve been through a lot together.

I’ll also miss the camaraderie at the office. I have been sharing an office with Ed Turski for most of the years in Prince George and Lindsay Kwantes joined us about six years ago. Both were fantastic partners – we never even came close to an argument! And our MOA, Colleen Price looked after us and our patients very well. I think we all respected and liked each other. Lindsay moved to be near family this summer, so we recruited two new grads from our Residency Program, who I was privileged to oversee through their training. It made it somewhat easier to leave, knowing that our office remains in good hands. But it will still be hard, in some respects, to part ways with that “family”.


I’ll miss feeling that sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, and all the fun I had in the office. I really enjoyed the intergenerational relationships we built, and working with everyone at the hospital. I just came from a meeting with my interprofessional team and it was really good – we’re really getting to know the team and what people bring to the table, which makes it tough to leave.

I’ll also miss being part of the forward progress our system is making. It’s nice to be a part of a plan from the beginning, and since switching to integrated primary and community care, it’s been like going to Mars! There’s no turning back. We’ve decided to commit to a plan that I’m confident it will be better for everyone in the long run. It feels like we’ve recently made such positive strides in the right direction.

What are you looking forward to most about being retired?


Well I can tell you what I won’t miss! I won’t miss getting up to an alarm and rushing through rounds, then rushing to the office, and that feeling of always being late!

Now that I have a bit (a lot) more time, I’ve joined the Cantata Singers, which is great. I’m also able to hang out with my grandkids more and attend to all the “pieces of my wellness pie”! I’m looking forward to doing more travelling also.


You know, as a doctor, you’re always in a rush and with a lot of time pressure. I won’t miss that. I also won’t miss all the documentation!

Are you planning to stay involved with the medical community in some way?


I’m still going to work some shifts at the Nechako walk-in clinic and cover for other doctors’ vacations at my clinic. And I’m still going to help with the Prince George Divisions of Family Practice for a bit. We have a lot of friends in the medical community still, which makes it easy to stay connected. In Prince George, doctors have really good foresight and can grasp the ‘big picture’ of medicine. It keeps us very interested in what’s happening locally.


I’ll still be doing a few shifts at the Nechako walk-in clinic as well. Prince George has a really unique medical community that makes us want to stay involved. About 40% of our Family Physicians were graduates of our Residency program here in Prince George – I don’t know anywhere else that’s like that.

garry knoll cycling on a road in the summer.When you’re both retired, will you be doing anything immediately to celebrate?


Truthfully, the last day of work at my clinic just slipped by. When you’re in charge of making sure everything will run smoothly when you’re gone, it sort of sneaks up on you. I didn’t even have time to tell my patients or the medical office assistant that it was my last day! The clinic had a lovely celebration later.


When I finish, we’re planning to go cross-country skiing for three weeks in the New Year! Honestly, when you’re in charge of a practice, you don’t really get a “clean cut.” In one way or another, you’re involved. I think the hardest thing will be when we both decide to hand in our licenses. That will be a tough day.

In your career, did you ever experience physician burnout or woes? Would you have any advice for medical students who might be experiencing something similar?


I experienced a bit of burnout about 10 years ago. Luckily, I was able to recognize it, so I decided to get a coach and I discussed my values and what I hoped to get out of life. It was then that I decided to scale back the number of patients I was seeing in clinic, and added the part-time position of site director for the Family Practice Residency Program, Prince George site.

It’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex and just go, go, go. Some advice for new graduates and medical students: read my article on wellness. It’s important to keep a balance in life and not be afraid to make changes. Realize that good work is part of the balance, you’re contributing, and it makes you feel good.


I’ve never had the burnout experience, although lately I have been thinking a lot about retirement! There have been times when I’ve felt frustrated, but I think any job has those.

The last 12 years I’ve been really focusing on finding a way forward for my practice, and the patients in the practice. I want patients to have a doctor that’s going to be there for the long term. Now that the practice has that, it makes it a LOT easier to step back.

Longitudinal care is so much better for patients and doctors – to have that long term relationship with their doctor. My hat’s off to the patients that have been there to educate residents over the last long years!

My advice for burnout: Self-reflection is important to be committed to. It’s important to receive feedback, and you need that group of people willing to give it in your professional and social life. You have to ask yourself, “Am I doing the things in life that align with my values?”

What was the biggest challenge for each of you both being general practitioners (family doctors)?


I think the biggest challenge was getting time off together. It was always a big scheduling event. We cared for the same patients in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and so we always talked about them when we weren’t at work. When we moved to Prince George we didn’t have the same patients, so we didn’t have that connection. There are definitely upsides to always understanding each other’s work demands.


For me, balancing the call of work and family was challenging. It actually became easier to overwork when the kids grew up, because they weren’t at home demanding our time. Overworking is easy when you both have busy schedules!

So, as it turns out, “retiring” to this pair of doctors is more about slowing down than anything else. Although there are no immediate plans of sailing towards Tahiti, it was genuinely satisfying to hear the praise and confidence they have for the direction northern BC healthcare is headed, and the people who are involved in moving it forward.

Thank you Garry and Susan for your interview time, and for leaving a lasting positive impact on your community!


Happy retirement to Fort Nelson Head Nurse Betty Asher

Headshot of Betty Asher.For 38 years, Betty Asher has been a constant presence at the Fort Nelson Hospital as the nurse manager, caring for staff and patients. At the end of March, Betty closed this chapter of her life and retired from Northern Health.

Born in the Philippines, Betty and her family moved to Vancouver in 1966 when her father was appointed as a diplomat to Canada. Her parents, sister and two brothers all moved to Canada on 4 year diplomatic passports. Living in Canada was a shock to the system for Betty. Not only was the weather colder than she was used to, but adapting to the different culture proved challenging. Betty was not equipped for the cold Canadian winters only owning jackets designed for the warm Philippines climate.

Betty started her career as a registered nurse in 1967 by enrolling in the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) nursing program. This provided an opportunity for her to make friends and immerse herself in Canadian culture. After completing nursing school, Betty was able to apply for a work visa, and later obtain Canadian citizenship. From 1971 – 1979 she worked as a nurse at Vancouver General Hospital on a surgical floor caring for patients and increasing her nursing knowledge and experience.

Betty welcomed her first child, daughter Leah, in 1976, followed by her son Jason in 1979. Betty’s parents, and two younger brothers moved to Ottawa so her father could progress his diplomatic career in the nation’s capital, while her sister went on to become a doctor.

Betty began her career Fort Nelson in 1980 when she moved there with her former husband so he could pursue business opportunities in the area. Fort Nelson quickly became home to Betty and her family. She became the consistent face at the hospital while they transitioned through a variety of administrators during her 38 years there. Betty was responsible for 27 staff at the hospital, a majority of which have been there for anywhere between 30 and 5 years.

Betty has had many accomplishments during her time in Fort Nelson that she is proud of including the development of the home support program, home care program and diabetes educator role. All of which are still going strong to this day and have contributed to delivering quality health care to the citizens of Fort Nelson. She was also instrumental in changing the pediatric unit to a multilevel unit, the chemotherapy program, and the integration of the interprofessional team.

Ensuring a sense of community at the hospital was always important to Betty. Whether it be the Christmas craft fair, raffles, spring events, or potluck dinners at the multilevel care facility. Workplace culture at the hospital was a priority for her as was ensuring the involvement of patients and their families in events and gatherings. Betty also spent time as the Chairman of the Hospice Society in Fort Nelson that has raised lots of money over the years, furthering her contributions to the community.

For 25 years, Betty was married to Dr. Ayalew (Al) Kassa until he passed away in 2013. A native of Africa, Dr. Kassa was only anticipating staying in Fort Nelson for 6 months, but ended up staying until his passing. They had a strong love of travelling, classical music, cooking, golfing, and the community of Fort Nelson.

Retirement is not going to slow Betty down, but instead may keep her even busier. She is scheduled for a knee replacement in Vancouver, and after she has recovered, she is planning on traveling to Africa to see family in Ethiopia, and visit the continent she has fallen in love with. She will continue living in Fort Nelson and will also spend time at her second home in Vernon and visiting her daughter Leah in Sicamous. Betty would like to take piano lessons to further advance her existing musical talents.

On behalf of everyone that has had the pleasure of working with Betty over the years, we wish her well in her retirement and are excited for her to embark on this new phase in her life.

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.


The fountain of youth

Man in boat on lake.

Reg plans on spending his senior years on the lake and is making choices now to help make that happen. What will you choose?

Have you ever heard about the fabled fountain of youth? In the 1400s, the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico and Cuba told early Spanish explorers about a fountain with miraculous powers that would restore the youth of whoever drank from it. Many explorers searched for the fountain of youth including Juan Ponce de Leon, who accompanied Christopher Columbus.

But enough about the fountain of youth for now and onto something more local!

It’s Seniors’ Week in B.C., which is a good time to remember that eventually, we all become seniors. I’m sure that most of us picture our senior years as a time to enjoy ourselves. I plan to spend lots of time fishing, cycling and reminding my children that I don’t have to get up and go to work every day!

All I need now is a fountain of youth from which to make my morning coffee. That would make my days on the lake and my epic bike rides much easier, wouldn’t it?

But the fountain of youth is a legend, isn’t it?

If you think about seniors, what comes to mind? For instance, you may be picturing a senior sitting in a rowboat on the lake, smiling as he fishes and enjoys the day. Alternatively, you may be picturing that same senior sitting in a wheelchair staring out the window at a lake. Why is there a difference?

Did one senior take a trip to Florida and meet a Spaniard named Juan Ponce de Leon? Or is it just the luck of the draw? I’d bet the senior in the rowboat realized that the real fountain of youth can be found in the choices we make and actions we take that affect our lives.

You might be thinking that we have no control over the future and that sometimes things happen despite our best efforts to lead healthy lives. You’re right, they do. However, there’s also truth in the idea that our choices and actions have a huge impact on the quality of our lives.

Why not choose to believe that we can create our own fountain of youth and act in ways that support our health?

  • Staying physically active can reduce the risk of chronic disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. It helps keep you independent and taking part in things you like to do. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 150 minutes of activity per week for adults.
  • Eating well supports your physical health, provides energy and keeps your immune system strong.
  • Staying connected to friends and family plays a huge role in supporting your mental health and happiness.
  • Challenging yourself intellectually keeps your mind sharp (perhaps sharp enough to outsmart the fish!).

The choices we make and actions we take today will affect how we get to live our tomorrow.

Personally, I’m looking forward to spending lots of time on the lake. What will you choose?

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.