Celebrating AU’s nurses

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When Donna Clare was singled out among her nursing peers to receive the Committee’s Choice Award at the 2016 CARNA Awards of Nursing Excellence, she was more than chuffed.

It meant her years of persistence had made a difference.

Since 2008, it has been her professional mission to support nurse practitioners (NPs). Clare, NP, and AU academic coordinator, is also the president of the Alberta Association of Nurse Practitioners in Private Practice (AANPIPP).

She is a champion and a voice for NPs, bringing the role front-and-centre in the province. Not an easy task, when the biggest hurdles are awareness of the role, and the lack of funding and career opportunities.

“We have such an overlap with the role of family physicians that it’s just very hard to get our interests heard,” says Clare, from her home office in Calgary.

Donna Clare receives CARNA's prestigious Committe's Choice Award in March 2016. (RHS: CARNA CEO Mary Anne Robinson; CARNA President Shannon Spensely)

Donna Clare (middle) receives CARNA’s prestigious Committe’s Choice Award in March 2016. (right: CARNA CEO Mary Anne Robinson; left: CARNA President Shannon Spensely)

Push the envelope

The AANPIPP might be a mouthful to say, but getting heard is Clare’s forte. She credits her supervisor, Dr. Margaret Edwards, dean of AU’s Faculty of Health Disciplines, (also an award winner) with enabling her spirit of tenacity.

That, combined with AU’s flexibility factor (it’s not only students who reap that reward), work wonders for someone juggling triple roles – as educator, practicing NP, and political activist.

“I have a duty to my profession and to the public, and Margie encourages me to work on all of those things. It just works out; she supports me and my passion for promoting the NP role,” says Clare.

Being recognized by her association, The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA), is especially gratifying, she notes, because it signifies her voice has been heard, loud and clear.

“I’ve been very persistent with CARNA in putting forth resolutions and meeting with nursing leaders in order to represent the interests of NPs, to try to move them forward with government,” she says.

CARNA CEO and Chair of the Awards Selection Committee, Mary-Anne Robinson, says the CARNA award nominees and recipients “represent the very best of us, and the breadth and depth of RN practice.”

“The award recipients inspire us, make us proud to be Registered Nurses and give us confidence in the future of our profession,” says Robinson.

AU Professor Beth Perry says her colleague Clare works hard to achieve her professional goals with conviction and purpose.

“She questions, she challenges, but you still know what her principles and values are, and she enacts them at all times — she is the epitome of a professional nurse,” says Perry.

I’ve been very persistent with CARNA in putting forth resolutions and meeting with nursing leaders in order to represent the interests of NPs, to try to move them forward with government.” ~ Donna Clare, MN, NP, Athabasca University, and CARNA Committee’s Choice Award recipient for 2016

Donna Clare, MN, NP, Athabasca University, and CARNA Committee's Choice Award recipient for 2016

Donna Clare, MN, NP, Athabasca University, and CARNA Committee’s Choice Award recipient for 2016

One hundred years of caring

The gala awards, which were held March 17, at the Delta Edmonton South Hotel and Conference Centre in Edmonton, also put the spotlight on Alberta’s registered nurses — 100 of them, in fact, including two of Athabasca University’s own.

Edwards, and Associate Professor Dr. Virginia Vandall-Walker, each received CARNA Centennial Awards for their years of innovation and dedication to the RN profession and its century-long committment to caring, leadership and advocacy in Alberta.

CARNA President Shannon Spencely said the recipients are ‘aspirational leaders’ and ‘inspirational role models.’

“[They] serve the public with distinction and embody qualities to be admired,” she wrote, in an email to AU.

According to CARNA’s website, Dean Edwards (known as ‘Margie’ by her peers), also a professor at AU, was the first nurse in the province to be awarded research funding from the Alberta Heart and Stroke Foundation.

“Her research evaluated what the public knew about cardiovascular disease and CPR instructional processes and case a spotlight on how nurse can make important contributions to research.”

She also was part of a group of nurse leaders who established the online Athabasca University nursing program in 1990.

The recipients are aspirational leaders and inspirational role models. [They] serve the public with distinction and embody qualities to be admired.” ~ Shannon Spencely, president, CARNA

CARNA Centennial Award recipient Dr. Margaret Edwards, PhD, RN, Dean, Faculty of Health Disciplines, and Professor

CARNA Centennial Award recipient Dr. Margaret Edwards, PhD, RN, Dean, Faculty of Health Disciplines, and Professor

Perry acknowledges her faculty leader’s “courage,” and “fearlessness,” and her ability to challenge the status quo while giving her staff “the confidence to do the same.”

“Margie has managed to create a culture of community, caring and collegiality in our faculty — which is a challenge given our diverse backgrounds, needs and priorities,” says Perry.

“Margie listens, with her heart and her ears. We feel heard and, more importantly, we feel understood.”

Fellow recipients Vandall-Walker and Clare agree that Edwards’ exemplary faculty leadership, her ambassadorship to the RN profession, and her stalwart efforts to champion and represent nurse practitioners (NPs), helped to secure the CARNA Centennial Award recognition.

“When I started at AU 21 years ago, there were only three of us. Now our faculty is huge. And that is because of Margie’s leadership and her vision,” says Vandall-Walker.

Margie listens, with her heart and her ears. We feel heard and, more importantly, we feel understood.” ~ Dr. Beth Perry, AU Professor and co-author of Creative Clinical Teaching in the Health Professions   ¹

Edwards, adds Clare, is a manager who has your back; she’s somebody who lets you grow. She says ‘just go for it, follow your dreams.’”

Northern exposure

CARNA 2016 Centennial Award recipient Dr. Virginia Vandall-Walker, PhD, MN, RN, associate professor

CARNA 2016 Centennial Award recipient Dr. Virginia Vandall-Walker, PhD, MN, RN, associate professor

Centennial Award recipient, Dr. Vandall-Walker, is an associate professor, and lead, Patient Engagement Platform, Alberta SPOR Support Unit (AbSPORU) with Alberta Innovates Health Solutions (AIHS).

She has worked across Canada as an RN, but it was nearly 40 years ago when she made her foray into the nursing profession in Canada’s northern, fly-in communities, as an outpost nurse.

She says she appreciated the North’s “frontier kind of mentality,” where “you could make anything happen.”

“It was an exciting time. You really knew that one person could make a difference,” she says.

Like Cole, she’s a fan of persistence. From opening day cares on northern reserves to establishing a practical nursing program — Vandall-Walker’s pioneering nature has propelled her in her profession.

“You could just about start up anything in the North, if you had an idea. You could have a direct impact — I liked being able to do that,” she says.

Today, she likens her role AbSPORU, to “another layer” on all those envelopes she pushes to improve the health and the health-related experiences of patients, families and communities.

You could just about start up anything in the North, if you had an idea. You could have a direct impact — I liked being able to do that.” ~ Dr. Virginia Vandall-Walker, PhD, MN, RN, associate professor, Athabasca University

“Virginia has taught us that if we believe in something, we need to stand up and speak our minds,” Perry remarks.

“She has taught us that it is okay to say ‘no’ and that, in fact, ‘no’ might be the best answer sometimes. Above all, she has taught us to be the voices of caution and questioning, and to never give up on something we believe in.”

Vandall-Walker cites her peer recognition as the most rewarding factor in receiving the Centennial Award.

“It is pretty amazing that my colleagues would have nominated me — and then to have your association award you, after virtually 40 years of being a nurse in this province, is extra special,” she says, adding “And I’m still going!”

The advice she continually gives her students hearkens back to that envelope metaphor.

“Push the envelope, definitely! Don’t accept the status quo. If you want to improve things you have to push the envelope. It’s the only way,” she asserts.

When she was appointed to her lead position AbSPORU last November, she was selected from candidates representing various post-secondary institutions in Alberta, including the University of Calgary, and the University of Alberta.

SPOR (Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research), notes Vandall-Walker, involves the concept and practice of patients and family, members and the public, actively engaging in health research with researchers, beyond acting as a research subject.

“It’s about being a patient, family- or public member on the research team, helping to inform what research will be conducted, how it will be conducted, and who will be involved,” she says.

“Push the envelope, definitely! Don’t accept the status quo. If you want to improve things you have to push the envelope. It’s the only way.” ~ Dr. Virginia Vandall-Walker

Alberta’s RNs and NPs, including those representing AU, are clearly a dogged lot. You have to be, says Clare, if you want to create impactful change.

“Those brick walls take a lot of knocking down. My forehead has the marks to show it. But they’re still not down; there has been a lot of chipping away, but there is still a lot to do.”

¹ (see article: Great Clinical Minds: Profs in Centre for Nursing and Health Studies launch e-text.)