Dr. Virginia Vandall-Walker: Advancing healthcare and leaving a legacy
After 25 years of making Athabasca University (AU) a better place to work, learn, and grow, Associate Professor Dr. Virginia Vandall-Walker retired from AU’s Faculty of Health Disciplines (FHD) on April 17, 2020. She leaves us with a legacy.
In addition to a lengthy list of publications, research projects, and scholarly contributions, a dedication to building the AU community, and inspiring and motivating learners, Vandall-Walker has had a deep impact on many of her FHD colleagues. So much so that they submitted a convincing nomination which led to the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) Award of Nursing Excellence Committee’s Choice Award in 2020.
Vandall-Walker has made an incredible impact on nursing—as a practitioner, administrator, educator, and researcher—and her work and contributions to the profession will continue to influence future generations. She will continue her association with AU as an adjunct professor in FHD and will be engaged in research at AU and beyond.
The CARNA award highlights some of the many significant milestones in Dr. Vandall-Walker’s career.
An early career working in remote fly-in communities in northern Canada
Vandall-Walker’s first nursing position was as a Health Canada nurse-in-charge in a northern Manitoba First Nations community. Knowing that many people in her community could only access the nursing station by boat, she established satellite locations at fish camps around the lake to improve access to health promotion and health care. She even obtained her pilot’s license, thinking this would probably come in handy! For 20 years, Vandall-Walker worked across Canada’s North, in multiple, isolated reserves, as a director of nursing in a rural health care facility, and as the program lead of the first rural pre-licensure nursing assistant program. In all these capacities, she was able to influence the health promotion and nursing care of Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.
Developing a Homemaker Aide Program
While farming near Grouard, Alta, Vandall-Walker developed a Homemaker Aide Program for Indigenous women at the local community college, to prepare them to support their communities and the work of local nurses. When she noticed that a lack of adequate childcare on the reserves was resulting in students missing classes, she spearheaded the organization of a daycare society, opening the first daycare at her college for students from across the southern part of Treaty 8.
Working and mentoring at AU
For the past 25+ years, Vandall-Walker has been on faculty with Athabasca University’s Faculty of Health Disciplines. She spearheaded the original proposal for what became the post-graduate nurse practitioner program, and was involved in the development and delivery of AU’s online distance nursing programs at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
Leading the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit for patient engagement
Vandall-Walker was named Lead of the Patient Engagement Platform of Alberta’s SPOR (Strategy for Patient Oriented Research) SUPPORT (Support for People and Patient-Oriented Research and Trials) Unit from November 2014 to January 2019. Alberta has seven province-wide platforms administered by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions, as part of the national SPOR initiative funded in part, by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In this role, she promoted patient and researcher engagement in health research and practice. This influence extended nationally and internationally, through invited presentations and workshops, and as the author of the much-cited organizing framework, Levels of Patient and Researcher Engagement in Health Research (PaRE) (2017).
“I owe AU, the students, and my FHD colleagues in particular, so much! AU, because the flexibility of distance teaching supported me in managing disabled children, meeting my full-time work expectations, and fitting in graduate education as well. Carpooling (twice a week to Athabasca for years) resulted in special life-long friendships. The motivated students have been so inspiring! And the FHD group? I am leaving a very precious family, who have challenged me to delve deeper and more broadly, and sustained me in doing so. The honour they have given me is so incredibly humbling and unexpected. I will miss you—the online humour, the idea exchanges, the visionary leadership.”