Meet Nursing Hero 3rd place winner Angela Tsang

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Having worked in research for many years, I’ve always believed that research is not only an extension but a huge part of our healthcare system. In my opinion, research and healthcare professionals should not only possess competencies expected of their roles but more importantly, they should be inherently caring. First and foremost, caring about patients/clients we serve and whose existence should be central in how we shape our values and goals. We should also care about the quality of the work we produce in all aspects of the job. While it is important to be able to carry out specific duties in the most effective and efficient way possible, it is imperative that we conduct these duties demonstrating outstanding service, integrity, and compassion. The challenge at times in an increasingly demanding environment is finding this balance and being able to ensure that caring for patients is not overlooked. Our nursing hero nominee, Angela Tsang, has certainly demonstrated this balance and has exceeded all expectations. It’s my pleasure to be given this opportunity to highlight her outstanding qualities.

Angela joined the Vancouver Spine Research Program a few years ago as she started her clinical research nurse position. She came with glowing remarks from our spine surgeons who have worked with her in the OR department at Vancouver General Hospital. Angela expressed her strong interest in research and in particular, the work that our spine surgeons do as clinician-scientists. The research nurse role requires not only strong competencies as a nurse, but also the ability to swiftly learn different skills and requirements of specific research studies. After just a few months of working with Angela, it was very clear that she is exceptional. She communicates effectively at a high level, in a thoughtful and organized manner. Her ability to acquire new skills and to process information is evident as she learned the many facets of research, skills that involve patients both directly and indirectly. She considers new projects and the operational challenges as learning opportunities, which she faces head-on. While it’s not surprising to many that Angela is capable of taking on many responsibilities that are especially new to her, it’s still quite fascinating to see her achievements. As her manager, it has been very rewarding for me to witness her professional and personal growth – a demonstration of “taking a role and running with it.” Her willingness to learn and openness to the dynamic nature of research has made it possible for this growth to flourish.

While the more tangible skills are commendable in and of themselves, qualities such as caring and awareness are also important in healthcare. These are some characteristics and values that I personally remind everyone in our research team to put at the forefront, as we deal with our day-to-day activities.  In Angela’s case, her inherently caring nature is evident when she interacts with patients and their families. In many cases, this initial interaction involves individuals with a very recent traumatic spinal cord injury, where a clear understanding of her role as research nurse and her innate ability to be compassionate are both required. In this acute environment involving very vulnerable patients, her ability to communicate effectively and actively listen to both the patient and the patient’s family shines. As you can imagine, it would be impossible not to be affected and touched by the individual stories and the impact of traumatic spinal cord injury. In some of our conversations, Angela recognizes how deeply sad some of these situations are and realizes how impactful it has been on her, much more than she expected. She shows empathy towards others while conducting her duties as a research nurse in a very thoughtful and organized manner.  It is by achieving this balance that makes her an excellent research nurse, particularly in an environment with patients requiring complex and specialized medical care. Self-evaluating and learning about herself is a reflection of her awareness and of her personal and professional growth. In her current role, she’s able to see some patients as they go through the continuum of care – from admission to VGH to their rehabilitation and community reintegration. Like many in our Spine Program who are very passionate in providing excellent clinical care, she finds fulfillment seeing patients and their families that she has come to know, witnessing their recovery and improvement. She always conducts herself in a calm, friendly, and professional manner. She is very patient and generous with the time spent with our research participants, addressing questions and providing assistance as necessary.

Dr. Marcel Dvorak, Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon, UBC Professor, ICORD Investigator and Associate Senior Medical Director, Vancouver Acute, VCH  couldn’t agree more: “Angela Tsang is a truly exceptional nurse in both the operating room where she functions as a subspecialty spine OR nurse and on the ward and in the clinic where she is a research nurse responsible for examining and consenting patients to clinical trials that are often initiated within hours of devastating spinal cord injuries.    You can imagine that it would take a particularly compassionate, informed, and delicate communicator to discuss the participation in a clinical trial that involves withdrawing spinal fluid from patients following acute spinal cord injury.   Angela has the unique ability to speak to these patients from a place of competence, knowledge blended with equal measures of compassion.   This is a particularly remarkable and unique skill that enables her to go beyond the call of duty every time she takes “research call” for our spine research studies.

Dr. Brian Kwon, Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon, UBC Professor, ICORD Investigator and Canada Research Chair in Spinal Cord Injury had this to say: “Angela is the consummate professional in all aspects of her nursing role.   In the operating room, she is second to none in her knowledge of the surgical procedures and technology.   When working on spine, she became more familiar with how to operate the surgical navigation system better than some of the spine surgeons!   In her research role, she is instrumental in the conducting of clinical trials in acute spinal cord injury.   She has mastered the role of talking to families in this time of crisis and providing them invaluable information about their spinal cord injury and related research.   She has even taken a leading role in talking to patients with spinal cord injuries who are dying about donating their spinal cords for research after they pass.    These are extremely sensitive discussions and Angela has been an outstanding resource for patients and their families.   In so many ways (both clinically and in research) she has gone far and above her call of duty and is an inspiration to many.”

Nominated by Allan Aludino, Research Program Manager, Vancouver Spine Research Program, UBC/VCH.