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Janet Hudson's Story

The North

While I was in nursing school in the early 1990s my favourite television show was Northern Exposure. I always knew that one day I would do remote northern nursing. However, that one day took almost 30 years.

 

During those 30 years, my career took me to ICU nursing in the southern USA and then back to Canada. I loved ICU nursing and honestly anticipated retiring in the ICU with a nice little pension. Then, the pandemic hit, and like many of my co-workers, the burnout took its toll quickly. With my kids grown, I decided this was opportunity knocking to finally look into that northern nursing that I’d romanticized in my youth.

 

After much networking and research, I sent my resume off to a couple different regions in Nunavut. I had a challenging interview and was thrilled when I got the job offer for a casual Community Health Nurse (CHN) in the Kitikmeot region and so thankful that the division took a chance on me. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Nunavut.

 

Where do I even start with the turn in my life since I got off that plane in May of 2021! The first person I met on my first assignment was a seasoned nurse who immediately laid out northern nursing for me. I was caught in between amusement and fear on what I had just done to myself.

 

Truths I have learned in my first year as a CHN in Nunavut:

In all honesty, this job is definitely not for everyone.

You will work harder than you have ever worked in your life. 

You will learn how far you can push yourself without sleep. Being on call is hard!

Get ready to eat some humble pie if you think you know it all or have seen it all. 

Remember that you are a guest in these remote communities.

 

A question I get asked frequently by friends and family is “why?”

 

Nowhere on the planet can I have this experience as a nurse. I get to work to the full potential of my scope of practice and I’ve learned more in one year than I have in the past 30! The professional and personal rewards of pushing myself out of my comfort zone have been like no other. That being said, the learning curve is steep and the consequences of error are high. 

 

I have had great experiences that I would have never had anywhere else. From true emergencies where you drive patients to meet the medivac planes, to being asked to pull teeth, cut hair, or deliver puppies - there is never a dull moment! Never did I envision the things that I would be doing, and I am quite sure there is more to come.

 

According to a personality test I once did, I am an introverted extrovert, thus the Arctic has proven to be the perfect place for me. I have had some amazing co-workers throughout my journey, but none like the co-workers I have met in the north. 

You have to have some grit to walk off the plane that you know is going to fly right off, leaving you in a new community where you know no one. I love adventure and I love adventurous people. I have forged some wonderful friendships in a very short time. In fact, I just returned from out of country visiting a nurse I met on an assignment last summer. 

 

The isolation in the Arctic is very real and you have to be comfortable with that. You will learn a lot about yourself and hopefully like what you find. I am pleasantly surprised with how much I cherish my alone time when on assignment. So much so that I’m currently re-evaluating my life in the city.

 

And the best for last - I consider it an extreme privilege to get to not only enter these remote Arctic hamlets, but to get to experience the day-to-day life of the amazing and resourceful Inuit communities. Watching locals return from a hunt, tagging along with a family ice fishing for Arctic char, or standing under the dancing aurora borealis, are all experiences afforded to very few. The Arctic is in an interesting cultural transition between the ways of the elders and the younger generation. I am living in the pages of National Geographic that teaches me everyday. That seasoned nurse that I met on my first assignment missed some “M’s” on her list because I am a momentous magical manifesto!