Discovering the link between
nursing and healthy policy
Samantha Fox almost became a nursing school drop-out.
The 23-year-old was in her second year of nursing at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), completing a practicum in general surgery at London’s Victoria Hospital, when she became disenchanted and discouraged. She met a patient who was having half his leg amputated because of a gangrenous infection in his foot. When she learned he was homeless, had diabetes and couldn’t afford his medication, and that most of his other leg was amputated for the same reason a year earlier, Fox grew frustrated and began to question working in a health-care system she felt didn’t pay enough attention to prevention.
“We weren’t doing health promotion…we weren’t teaching,” she remembers, adding that nurses have a responsibility to advocate for their patients. “That’s something we’re taught from day one.”
Fox looks back on the experience now and realizes it was a turning point. “We should have been advocating for him to go somewhere where he could take care of himself,” she says. “If that means that we have to advocate for better funding for programs, then that’s what we have to do.”
Fox walked away from nursing school for one year. Fearful of losing her degree, she returned, albeit reluctantly. But thanks to the structure of UWO’s program, she had an opportunity to experience community and family nursing in her third year of studies. This, she says, reignited her passion for the profession. “I remembered why I started in the first place: I like caring for people,” she says.
In her final year, Fox was introduced to political advocacy through a placement at London’s Ealing Public School. She and three fellow nursing students met with youth and discovered many feared for their safety on the busy road where the school was located. Fox and her classmates brought this information to city council and council had crosswalk buttons installed, road lines repainted, and called for police to survey traffic. She saw the results of their advocacy unfold before her eyes.
Fox wanted to learn more about political advocacy, and visited Ottawa last summer to chat with MPs and the Prime Minister at a conference she says changed her life. It was at this event that Fox met former London area MP Terry Clifford, the founder of Global Vision, the not-for-profit organization hosting the event, and a firm believer in the need to engage more youth in the political process. The two discussed nursing and community action, and bounced around the idea of creating a program to encourage youth to vote and get more involved in their communities. That meeting a year ago led to the launch of the Global Vision Riding Ambassador program, an initiative meant to motivate youth to cast ballots during elections.
Fox coordinated the program during its first year, working primarily out of its home base in London, Ont., although its influence stretches across the country. She has since stepped down to concentrate on her nursing career, but hopes to use the political knowledge she gained to influence nursing colleagues to become more engaged. She says she doesn’t often hear a lot of political banter between RNs, and wants to remind colleagues of the important role they can play in the political arena.
Fox graduated from UWO this spring, and will write her licensing exam in June. She has volunteered to become involved with the political advocacy work of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) and hopes to attend more political events, particularly the Annual Day at Queen’s Park, an opportunity for nurses to meet one-on-one with MPPs to discuss pressing health care and nursing issues. She says any questions she once had about her career choice have all been answered. In fact, her passion for the profession is stronger than ever.
“The only way I would get out of nursing is if all the problems of the health-care system were fixed,” Fox says, laughing. “I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.”