Why did you decide to become a nurse practitioner?
I was working as an outreach nurse in Kwanlin Dün First Nation with a no-fixed-address outreach van. At this time, I was frustrated with the limits of my scope of practice as an RN and wanted to be able to provide more comprehensive care. This is when I began to realize I wanted to be an NP. As I thought about it more, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to work autonomously and be able to offer a broader scope of services. In the North, there is a gap in terms of what people can access. They either had a family doctor or nothing, so I saw a need for NPs to fill that gap.
How do you feel you help patients the most?
I think that being an NP provides patients with the time and space to feel heard. Where I practice, I am able to run 30-60 minute appointments. Patients feel they can be seen and heard in the entirety of their life; they are seen as a whole person (one with specific stressors, including socio-economic status, etc.).
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job and what is the most challenging?
The most rewarding aspect is the interaction with patients — having the time to spend with patients, seeing them work through their health challenges, being a cheerleader for my patients. I work with a lot of patients who do not have family doctors, so having people finally be able to access health care and make health changes is rewarding.
The most challenging aspect is having only five NPs in the Yukon. The first NP position was established here in 2013. We are still in our infancy in the Yukon, and there are still some challenges around the politics and understanding of the NP role. For example, one particular surgeon will not accept referrals from any NPs, even though they are allowed to refer. As another example, a surgeon I have a good relationship with accepts my referrals, but other surgeons won’t. But things are slowly changing as we build trust with the public and other health-care providers. NPs in the Yukon are where Ontario and B.C. NPs were 10 years ago — on that same trajectory. In Canada there is a general lack of understanding of the NP role, but Ontario is leading the way forward. However, there are still places where the NP role is not understood at all, including what we can and cannot do.
More about Michelle:
I have always been passionate about women’s health, especially in rural/remote areas. I did my master’s in improving sexual health outcomes in the North. I have been lucky to be a part of developing a Yukon sexual health clinic. I am one of the clinic leads. We just hired a second NP in April; up until then I was the only NP working in this clinic. Because we are new, we have been able to create these clinics from the ground up and be really innovative to meet patient needs. I am very proud of being a part of women’s health in the North, as well as being at the forefront of expanding and implementing the NP role in the Yukon. I feel that we are very important for increasing access and improving health outcomes for all northerners.