I graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing from a collaborative program of Seneca College and York University in 2008 and went straight into critical care nursing. I did my critical care program at Seneca after graduation, and a year after that I started working in the emergency department at Markham Stouffville Hospital.
To be a new grad working in critical care, which is usually an ICU or emergency department, is very difficult. To be an emerg nurse you need a lot more knowledge and a lot more skills. I liked that there was no set routine – you don’t get the same patients every day. You have to play detective and find out what’s going on, and a lot of times the nurses initiate treatment before the doctor sees the patient. In emergency, you see cardiac patients, which is why I went back and did my coronary care certificate at Seneca.
One of the main things in coronary care is to identify cardiac rhythms: What is regular? What is irregular? You have to be able to identify the rhythm or what the problem is before you know the treatment or how bad something is. You have the not-so-bad rhythms that are not great but aren’t going to kill your patient; then you have rhythms that are bad, what they call arrhythmias. That’s a big part of the course and what we do in the emergency department.
Heart problems are something we put priority on, but you need to be able to tell very quickly if patients are in danger of deterioration and whether they need the doctor right away. Can they sit in a chair and wait for two hours? That’s your call, and it takes knowledge and experience to make it.
Some of my best moments are when the family comes back to thank me. If the patients are very unwell or need specialized surgeries or care, we have to transfer them to tertiary centres such as Sunnybrook, St. Mike’s or Western Hospital. We always wonder how they’re doing, so the biggest reward is when they come back later to say, “Hey, I’m doing well now. Thank you for your care. You really made a difference.”
I did a master’s of nursing at Ryerson University. After working for a number of years, I thought, “Do I want to do a different kind of bedside nursing or take my career to another level?” When you’re a nurse for a number of years, you take on students who shadow you and do everything you do. I’d had two students previously and I really enjoyed that, so I thought it would be good to move my career toward nursing education. So now I’m in the emergency department parttime and teaching part-time at Seneca.
In those 14-week courses, you have a lot of in- depth professional, but also personal, interactions with your students. It’s a different way of teaching. You spend a lot of time together, and the rewards are tremendous, being able to pass on your knowledge and feel like you’ve made a difference.
As an emergency nurse, you have to play detective, and you see a lot of cardiac patients, which is why I pursued a coronary care certificate at Seneca.