By Victoria Alarcon
For many nursing students, instructors play a huge role in their quest to become a nurse and a member of their professional association, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO). Academic instructors guide students in the classroom, while clinical instructors ensure they can apply what they’ve learned.
Inspiration in an academic setting
For palliative care RN Mahoganie Hines, advocacy has always been a passion. During her 20s, she was a caregiver and personal support worker for a father who was dying and needed an advocate to encourage his family to support and care for him near the end of his life. She also helped a mother who lived alone, struggled with vascular dementia, and needed help on a daily basis. Seeing these vulnerable clients made Hines want to speak out: “The reality is that many of them are so…exhausted. I think it is our responsibility…to advocate for people in a meaningful and purposeful way.”
Hines always knew she wanted to work in palliative care. She also wanted to become a political advocate. She just didn’t know how to combine them. That is, until she met her first-year nursing professor Elizabeth Edwards in 2012.
Edwards began teaching as a clinical nurse educator in the 1980s. She moved to Loyalist College in Belleville in 2001, when a full-time teaching position opened up in its new nursing collaborative degree program. “In the midst of giving the best care you can, nurses tend to lose the idealism of what brought them into nursing in the first place,” she says. By teaching undergrad students, I thought “…maybe I can communicate that idealism to them in a way that will make them hold onto it when the work gets very tough.”
As an academic instructor, Edwards works hard to teach students to be curious and enjoy learning. She also makes them aware of their responsibility to speak out for nursing and speak out for the health of their patients, and all citizens of the province. “That’s part of what a nurse does,” she says.
It’s a lesson she learned from one of her nursing professors. And it was part of the reason she joined RNAO when she graduated in 1975. Years later, Edwards became a member of RNAO’s Provincial Nurse Educators Interest Group (PNEIG). In fact, she co-chaired the group between 2011 and 2016, and became the chair again this year.
When Edwards met Hines in 2012, she could see a student with an outgoing personality who wanted to learn and understand what it took to be an advocate. “The word ‘no’ or ‘you can’t do that’ was not in her vocabulary or her world view,” says Edwards.
Thanks to Edwards, Hines learned how nurses can be change agents by staying informed about government policies and getting involved in events outside of school. Edwards says she always introduces RNAO to her students, and tells them about opportunities to advocate for healthy public policy.
As an active nursing student associate, Hines attended chapter and political events. Her favourite was Queen’s Park Day, where she joined fellow members to sit down and speak with MPPs in her region. “It helped me understand policy development and how to interact with politicians in a professional manner,” she says.
Hines graduated in 2016 with her bachelor’s degree in nursing. She now works as a palliative pain and symptom management consultant at Hospice Niagara, and is the policy and political action executive network officer for RNAO’s Niagara Chapter and its Palliative Care Nurses Interest Group. She looks back with a lot of gratitude to Edwards for being her mentor and introducing her to RNAO: “There are no…words for the influence and impact she’s had to my nursing practice.”
Inspiration in a clinical setting
As a first-year nursing student at Western University in 2017, Alanna Peplinski learned everything from human anatomy to health promotion. She completed her first-year exams and did well in all her classes, but still had a lot of doubt and fear about working with patients. “I was afraid to make mistakes,” she admits. Hoping to overcome her fears, Peplinski reached out to certified diabetes educator (CDE) Andrea Zides, a CDE for nine years and a nurse educator for 14.
Zides didn’t begin her career as a teacher. She started in the emergency department at a Buffalo hospital in 1996, commuting from Niagara until she left for an extended maternity leave in 1997. Three years later, Zides went in search of opportunities that would give her time with her kids during the day. She became a night school teacher for Niagara College in 2000. The job opened her eyes to how gratifying teaching could be, and the students she could help.
“They were enriched with…drive and passion, and they were trying to better themselves,” she says of her students. Zides returned to front-line emergency nursing in 2003, and didn’t go back to teaching until 2007, when she started as a diabetes nurse educator for the Niagara Diabetes Centre.
She taught patients about food, nutrition and exercise, and also did one-on-one counseling. Two years later, she opened her own diabetes education centre in Welland. She became certified in 2010, and began mentoring nursing students. “Some teachers along my path made an enormous difference in my life, and I knew that I wanted to give back,” she says.
When Peplinski reached out and asked to shadow her over the summer, Zides was excited. Peplinski remembers one of the first lessons: you don’t need to know everything right away, and making mistakes is part of the learning process. “(She was) really encouraging,” Peplinski says.
The pair was together throughout Zides’ daily routine, and, from time to time, Zides would give Peplinski opportunities to interview patients on her own, and take vitals. During a lunch break one day, Peplinski admitted she had never given an injection to a patient. Zides took a plum from the fridge, grabbed a needle with saline, and demonstrated different techniques. “(I was feeling) a little bit nervous, but overall, I was excited,” Peplinski recalls.
Throughout the mentorship, Zides encouraged Peplinski to join RNAO to take advantage of a community that would always be willing to help her. Peplinski took her advice. “She really enforced the impact RNAO has on nurses and being part of a community,” she says.
Victoria Alarcon is communications specialist/co-ordinator for RNAO, the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and nursing students in Ontario. This article was originally published on RNJ.RNAO.ca.