Nursing in Nunavut: “It’s the Best Thing I’ve Ever Done”
Did you know that Bayshore HealthCare has a Northern Nursing program? Qualified RNs and LPNs have the opportunity to work in Indigenous and northern communities, providing care to everyone from newborns to elders. We asked Susan Langin, an LPN from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to share her experience of working in the territory of Nunavut.
Q: Susan, how long have you been a nurse?
A: I graduated from the Centre for Nursing Studies in St. John’s in 2016. I went to school very late in life. I’d always wanted to be a nurse, but I had a family and raised my kids first. In my mid-to-late 40s, I decided it was time. I left my job as a child and youth care worker and went back to school. It was the best decision I ever made. I worked in rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care before joining Bayshore in 2019. I joined specifically for the Northern Nursing program. I’ve always been drawn to the north – the beauty of Nunavut, and learning about the Inuit people and what their needs are, and being able to provide care where they are. Friends who were working in Nunavut told me about their experiences. After doing some research, I decided it was time for a change. I picked Bayshore because of its strong reputation and the great feedback I’d heard from friends who work there.
Q: When did you start working in Nunavut?
A: My first time was in November 2019, in Kugluktuk, the territory’s westernmost community. Since then, I’ve also worked in Cambridge Bay, Taloyoak, Pond Inlet and Gjoa Haven – I’m on my way there now! This is my eighth trip. I stay for six weeks each time, then go home for about four weeks.
Q: Can you describe the clinical settings?
A: We work in a health centre with an emergency room, a treatment room and a maternity room. Nurses of different disciplines have their own offices. RNs are called community health nurses, or CHNs (pronounced “chins”). Staffing levels are based on population – we have three to five nurses on-site at once. The health centres are well equipped. We don’t necessarily have access to the same medical equipment available in southern hospitals, but we do have equipment. The RNs work in expanded scope. The communities have visiting doctors, and a lot of them have regular nurse practitioners (NPs), which is fantastic, and there’s always a physician on call – they can be anywhere in Canada. If it’s a situation where we can’t keep the patient stable or they need more care than we can provide, they’re medevac’d by plane to a southern hospital.
Q: What is your schedule like?
A: Generally, my schedule is Monday to Friday, 8:30 to 5. Depending on the community you’re in, overtime is available. LPNs can be called in to assist, for example, with a stable patient who’s being medevac’d, and for any kind of emergency, based on our scope of practice. LPNs aren’t on call, but CHNs are.
Q: When you need clinical support, whom do you contact?
A: I contact someone at Bayshore by phone or email. Everybody is really quick to reply. We follow Alberta scope of practice in Nunavut, so I can also contact the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta, and they respond quickly as well. My job also includes telehealth – we connect with specialists using videoconferencing technology. LPNs can do anything that’s within our scope of practice.
Q: Where do you live while you’re there?
A: Housing is provided. In one community I’ve been to, it’s right above the health centre. In others, there are houses or apartments nearby. Usually you share with another nurse or two. I’ve been going to Nunavut for a year now, and I’ve started coming across people I’ve worked with before. I’ve developed some really great friendships. It’s nice to make these tight connections – we really work as a team, and we’re all sharing the same challenges and happiness and all of it. Some of the most amazing nurses I’ve ever met work in Nunavut.
Q: What are the personal challenges of nursing in Nunavut?
A: Isolation. Nothing really prepares you for that. Yes, there’s a grocery store, usually two, but not much else. These communities are only accessible by plane. You get used to it, but even I have a hard time still. You have to fill your down time. I usually load up my tablet with movies and TV shows. When I need internet access, I use my phone as a hot spot. I’m teaching myself to crochet.
Q: What personality traits are helpful for working up north?
A: You definitely need the ability to adapt quickly to change, whether it’s a flight delay or a challenging case coming through the door. You need to have some experience behind you – if a brand-new nurse came up, I’d be concerned they’re not set up for success. You also need confidence, and the ability to trust yourself. You need a very open mind, and to understand and be open to local ways of healing. You need to be a good listener.
Q: Do you have suggestions on how to prepare?
A: Talk to nurses who have worked up north – we’re happy to share. Do your research. There are challenges, but you can educate yourself. There’s a great free online course, Indigenous Canada, through the University of Alberta. It really opens your eyes, and it teaches you how Indigenous peoples want to be treated, both personally and medically.
Q: What do you like most about working in Nunavut?
A: Oh, my gosh, there’s so much. The place has stolen my heart. I absolutely love going up there. The people are the kindest, most beautiful and resilient I’ve ever met, and I love the relationships I’ve made with the people and communities. Professionally, working in Nunavut has been incredibly rewarding, and it’s given me a lot of confidence in the care I can provide. The weather – yes, it’s cold, but the vastness of the north is beautiful. It’s just magical. The northern lights. Seeing kids outside playing all day. I’m very lucky to do a job I love in a place I love, one that most people never have the opportunity to see. I have no regrets. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Learn more about Bayshore HealthCare’s Northern Staffing program.