I am, and have always been driven to learn.
I consider myself a life-long learner, and have always succeeded in school. In fact, the desire to learn nagged at me almost immediately after I walked off the stage at the University of Calgary at convocation for my undergraduate nursing degree. I knew I was going to pursue higher learning and more formal education. However, I did not have a clear plan of when, or even more importantly, why.
Nurse as student
I knew I wanted to pursue graduate studies, but first needed to gain valuable experience in nursing and really dig-in to what it meant to be a professional nurse. I was out of school, working on an incredibly busy and acute inpatient unit, and wanted to sponge up as much knowledge, skills, and experience as I could.
Shortly after, I found my passion and niche in oncology in 2008, where constant learning is necessary. Innovations and advances in technology, treatments, and models of care make up the ever-changing landscape in oncology. I was hooked. Ambulatory oncology has much to offer in variety to a frontline nurse. In true learner-fashion, I pounced on every learning and development opportunity possible.
I had the pleasure of working in many diverse roles which include: frontline systemic therapy nurse, solid tumour and hematology clinics, and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre Screening for Distress Coordinator, and eventually in clinical education. I found myself engaged local and provincial committees, and education events. All of these roles and responsibilities came with unique learning curves and challenges.
The common theme of continuous learning stayed the same.
Nurse as teacher
I was learning fast that being in healthcare meant constant learning. And also, that the very nature of being a nurse requires you to not only learn, but to teach. This includes: informal, and formal teaching among colleagues, students, patient and family teaching, and teaching new staff. It’s embedded in our Code of Ethics and in our roles and responsibilities of our governing bodies. It’s engrained in our nursing and healthcare culture.
But, who teaches nurses to become effective teachers?
Upon reflection, I did not learn any formal teaching strategies in my undergraduate degree, and none of my nursing roles provided with formal training on how to properly educate.
Nurse as student, again
With those realizations, and an obvious passion for education and adult learning, I decided to formally prepare myself and pursue my interests and enroll in a Master of Nursing with a Teaching Focus at Athabasca University. My goal was to continue working full-time, and study full-time; and Athabasca’s online platform provided me with the flexibility to accomplish both. I loved the program, especially my teaching-focused courses!
A year into my program, I became one of the three clinical nurse educators at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Although full-time work and studies was a challenge to manage, it offered many advantages as I could leverage my learnings from my courses directly. My husband, Tyler and family provided amazing support and encouragement throughout those very busy two years.
Discovering my inspiration
After years of pursuing excellence in school, entering university and obtaining a Bachelor’s, and striving to professionally develop, it took pursing graduate studies to understand that my drive and desire to learn stems largely from being inspired by my parents.
My mom and dad both grew up in farming families in Alberta. My mom, Lori is a retired Licensed Practical Nurse, and my father, Brian is a retired RCMP member turned Security Consultant. They never had the means or opportunity to do post-secondary schooling for themselves, but had saved up for our education. As such, going to university was not a choice; it was an expectation.
I grew up with my older sister and younger brother knowing that schooling was important, and a priority. The value of education was instilled in us.
In my eyes, my mom is superhuman and was an amazing and compassionate nurse who paused her career to stay home while we were growing up. She took her refresher course while managing multiple transfers with the RCMP and three little kids, and then worked in urgent care and walk-in clinics until she retired. She provided me a glimpse into the world of nursing and also modelled what can be accomplished as a working mom.
Dad is the most determined, hard-working man I know. He left the family farm and joined the RCMP at age 18 with a dream of riding horses on the Musical Ride. He worked his way up in the RCMP to the level of Executive Officer to the Commissioner, and with only grade 12 education, graduated from the Executive MBA program at Ottawa University at age 40.
Looking back, I really did not comprehend what kind of challenge that must have been for him at the time. Now, as a working adult and parent, I am even more amazed at his accomplishment.
What an incredible inspiration.
It was not until I graduated from Athabasca University with my Master of Nursing Teaching Focus in August, 2015 and had to decide to attend convocation and “walk the stage” the following Spring that I gained a deeper understanding of why I am so driven to learn.
It became clear that my parents’ value and role modelling of hard work, believing in yourself, and investing in education, influenced my personal motivation and drive to learn.
It dawned on me that I wanted to formally accept my graduate degree, not only to celebrate my accomplishment, but to give a nod to my parents for inspiring me in ways that I am still discovering.
And so, on a very hot day in June 2016, with my husband, parents, sister, and brother watching in the audience, I walked across the stage, 8 months pregnant at Athabasca with excitement and gratitude.
Sydney is the Provincial Educator/Coordinator for the Oncology Practice Readiness Education Program (O-PREP) in Alberta Health Services where she works to advance and standardize oncology orientation and education. Sydney is a certified oncology nurse with the Canadian Nursing Association, an Adjunct Clinical Associate with the University of Calgary, and an Executive Member for ONIGA—South, a Chapter of the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology (CANO). She lives in Calgary with her husband Tyler and curious two-year-old son, Ethan