National Nursing Week: Caring for people struggling with addiction
Nursing is constantly evolving, and so is nursing education.
During National Nursing Week, the Faculty of Health Disciplines at Athabasca University is proud to shine the spotlight on some of the many students, alumni, faculty, and researchers who work on the leading edge of nursing knowledge and practice — to improve the health of all Canadians.
Nurses are no strangers to the challenging world of addiction. Every day, people whose lives depend on receiving timely, appropriate care turn to knowledgeable, compassionate professionals for help.
Hannah McKay, who graduated from the Faculty of Health Disciplines’ Master of Nursing: Nurse Practitioner program in 2013, works in this complex environment. She believes health care providers too frequently treat a chronic relapsing disease without addressing underlying issues beyond choice and willpower.
McKay shared her story — and the insights she is gaining as she travels further along the addiction care path — in the Fall 2018 issue of the FHD newsletter.
“To say that the world of addiction is fascinating is an understatement. When I stepped outside the world of primary care, I was not prepared for the challenges that awaited me.”– Hannah McKay
Hannah McKay - in her own words:
I have always worked for the Nova Scotia Health Authority and joined the Eastern Zone’s Opioid Recovery Program in September 2017, during an opioid crisis.
What I did not appreciate was the magnitude of this crisis or the stigma that surrounds it.
I arrived to a find 600 patients in the program, which operates from four sites, and a waitlist of over 100 people. We decided to address the waitlist first, acknowledging that agonist treatment is most likely to prevent relapse and decrease mortality and morbidity associated with illicit opioid use. We admitted 100 patients in a matter of five months and discovered the need for treatment had grown.
Our waitlist was growing not because the need grew (the need was always there), but because patients who were desperate for help were seeing movement in our wait times. The light at the end of the tunnel was growing brighter.
With each admission, I am humbled and sometimes horrified to hear the patient’s life story. It is sad to hear about the trauma they endured, the hardships they faced and the stigma they have come up against.
My role is evolving to include advocacy, leadership and education. I think we have much more work to do to bridge the gap between those in treatment and those needing treatment, but we also need to work on understanding the cause of drug use, the misconceptions that surround “use” and the role we all play in managing chronic disease.