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Nicole Wilcox's Story
I am Nicole Wilcox from Cambridge Bay, and I am a registered nurse who graduated from Dalhousie University in Halifax.
It wasn’t too long into my first clinical that nursing became my calling.
Growing up in Nunavut I was taught through observation or being explicitly told by my parents that we were meant to help each other. If you could help, then you did.
Fast forward to my fourth and final year of school and nursing was still what I wanted to do for the rest of my working career. As the end of year approached, my fellow classmates and I were excitedly talking about final placement choices, requests and hopes. I was accepted to complete my final placement in my hometown of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut! I was excited, nervous, and had a million questions going through my mind. Would the community accept me as a medical professional? Would I be able to nurse the people that I grew up with?
My preceptor Erin and I were not in Cambridge Bay for long before we were headed to Gjoa Haven to assist with short staffing during a respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) endemic. There were many late nights and very long days but I fell in love with helping my people when they needed it. It was a full circle moment! From my parents telling me we help people in any way we can, to nursing those in need whether it be sick babies, giving immunizations to protect from illnesses, routine screening, bloodwork, pap smears, etc. This is where I felt like I needed to be.
As a new nursing graduate from Nunavut I had the opportunity to precept with someone for up to a year. Erin and I worked in three different Kitikmeot communities together and I learned so much in such a short time. I could probably spend hours to days talking about my experiences.
What nursing school could never have prepared me for was Arctic community nursing. I was warned to gain experience before moving home to Cambridge Bay, but I had high hopes that I would return and everything would be great. I was not prepared for the unexpected, nor expected deaths of people I had known for my entire life. I was not prepared for spending days at the health center working and charting, ensuring bloodwork was ordered, completing doctor referrals and requisitions, being on call, getting calls when not on-call and that all hands are needed when there is an emergency.
There have also been many positive experiences such as being able to understand a little bit of what was being said in Inuktitut without a translator. Being greeted in other communities with “Oh, you’re the Inuk nurse!” I was able to help people understand their chronic illnesses, and I was able to understand people in a way that non-Inuit couldn’t understand. My preceptor sometimes thought patients were done speaking or that I didn’t understand their Inuktitut, when in fact I knew that they were just pausing in order to share more. Getting a patient’s full story and allowing space for that is so important. I was able to recognise when they were not ready for the next question.
Before the end of those nine months, I realized that I was not ready for Community Health Nurse (CHN) work. I didn’t have the experience that everyone warned me about. I decided that I would not maintain my casual position as a CHN and would go back to Halifax and gain more experience. I had an interview with the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) and, not really knowing what I was getting into, I accepted the job offer. I was still completing my orientation when I realized this was exactly what I was looking for. It was a job that I could afford to spend a little bit longer helping people, listening to their stories without having to run to the next call bell or working a 12-hour shift with the smell of hospital lingering home with me at the end of the day.
I was with the VON for four and a half years when I saw the job posting for a Public Health Nurse (PHN) in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. My first thought was that this would be a great way to for me to get back home as a nurse. I applied, interviewed, and accepted the position – moving back home with my spouse and two dogs in the middle of a global pandemic. I have loved every minute of being a PHN in my home community, helping people as I was meant to.