Nursing may not have been where Kirsti Donald saw herself “when she grew up,” but it was far from her second choice,
Donald, a registered nurse at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH), initially applied to the Georgian College/York University collaborative program when she was younger. And while she said she loved it, her life at the time took her on another path and she didn’t complete it.
“I didn't finish the program back then and once I had my family, I decided to apply again and follow through on it as a mature student,” said Donald, who graduated from the program in 2016. “I wanted to be a globetrotting career woman in a power suit... but then I gave nursing a chance and realized how perfect a fit it was for me.”
Donald started her career in mental health and has spent the last two years working on the respiratory inpatient unit.
“The last year of that has been (with) the designated pandemic unit caring for COVID-positive patients,” she told BarrieToday. “I went from a respiratory nurse to a COVID nurse. We learned to identify and treat a virus we knew little about. We learned to adjust, adapt and overcome even more than before. We learned to support our patients in an entirely new way since family couldn't be present.”
Donald and her team at RVH also had to learn quickly how to cope with additional stress and emotional distress that comes with new challenges and unexpected losses.
“We learned how to lean on our team more than ever and we learned how important self care is to avoid burnout and continue to strive for providing exceptional patient care," she said.
Donald is now transitioning between specialties and will embark on her new adventure in dialysis next week. She will, however, remain in respiratory on a casual basis, while also working at Hospice Simcoe providing palliative care.
“I have a variety of areas that I work in and I enjoy them all for different reasons. That's the best part about nursing. There is always something new to learn and different areas to branch out to,” Donald said, adding it’s that variety she loves most about being a nurse. “There is always something new to learn and somewhere new to go. It's a constantly evolving area and it challenges you daily.”
Being part of a patient's recovery, or being there to help them be comfortable in their final days, is another rewarding aspect of the job.
“In one area where I work, you see them come in sick and get to be a part of that process in helping them to recover and return home. Seeing people get better is so rewarding and knowing you had a part in that is incredible,” Donald said. “In another area, I am able to provide people with comfortable and supportive end of life care to ensure that they and their families have a great experience during a difficult time.”
Along with the joys come challenges however, Donald admits, adding the politics — along with a lack of resources and support — has made it an even more challenging field to work in.
“Nursing has become a 'do more with less' profession. It always puts us in a position where we feel that the system has the potential to put us and our patients at risk. It's frustrating,” she said.
The pandemic has only shone that light brighter.
“We are human. We struggle with this pandemic as much as anyone. We aren't superheroes... we're human.”
Registered practical nurse (RPN) Gabrielle Ashe is a float nurse at RVH who is currently working at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre in Barrie, an experience she says has been bittersweet.
“It’s been hard to see what this pandemic has done to the public and people I care about, but it also makes me feel important and appreciated to work in this pandemic (and to be) working alongside some fantastic people to help educate (and) assist the public to overcome this.”
Ashe graduated from the practical nursing program at Georgian College in 2015, adding she always knew she loved helping people.
“When my nana got sick, I admired the nurses and how they assisted their patients. I knew that is what I wanted to do," she told BarrieToday.
As a float nurse, Ashe has the opportunity to meet a variety of different people in the different units at the hospital, something she truly enjoys.
“I love how many different people you meet and learning about their lives. ... It’s rewarding,” she said.
The hardest parts are the stigma, the staffing ratios and not always being able to spend as much time with time with patients as they’d like, Ashe says.
“I wish people knew how much you really do mean to us. How much we root and cheer you on for all your accomplishments! How scared we can actually be for you, and we are always advocating," she said.