A Steep But Rewarding Learning Curve
Jessica Reid may diagnose and treat an illness or injury, prescribe medication and monitor those with chronic disease.
The best part of her job, though, lies in preventive care. “It’s not about Band-Aiding anyone,” she says. “Here, we are all proactive, with our biggest focus on prevention.”
Reid isn’t a medical doctor. As a Pure North nurse practitioner, she is able to provide all of the services of a registered nurse, and many of those associated with physicians, thanks to her advanced education and training.
For the past three years, the 37-year-old has been part of the Precision Health Clinic, a nurse practitioner-led primary health care clinic at Pure North.
Precision Health is different from the Pure North program in that it provides primary care support for a wide variety of health concerns. However, it’s similar in its focus on prevention as well as promotion of vitamin and mineral supplementation to achieve optimal health.
“I knew a lot about the importance of diet before I came to Pure North,” says Reid who, like the other three nurse practitioners on her team, is also part of the Pure North program. “The supplementation part was a huge but fantastic learning curve for me.”
Delivering babies, stitching up people
Reid’s qualifications have been more than a decade in the making. After graduating from Memorial University with a nursing degree in 2006, she worked in her native Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in everything from acute care to rural health.
“I was always interested in disease processes and preventive health,” says Reid, who describes herself as an inquisitive person and natural problem-solver. “But I didn’t see a lot of focus on preventive health out in the real world.”
Preventive care “is not about Band-Aiding anyone”
By 2011, Reid was juggling a fly-in job in Nunavut with online studies through Athabasca University to
become a nurse practitioner.
“You had to practise nursing for three years before you could even apply to school to become a nurse practitioner,” she says. “That’s changed since.”
The experience in Nunavut gave her a taste of what was to come. “I was delivering babies, stitching up people, doing it all,” she says. “I loved it.”
A vital part of health care
Nurse practitioner is a relatively new profession in North America, first appearing in the U.S. in the mid-1960s to alleviate a physician shortage. Some trace the Canadian origins back even farther, to outpost nurses in the 1880s.
The formalization of this vital role, though, began around the same time as our neighbours to the south. In Canada, the nurse practitioner is now considered an essential component of the Canadian health care system. (See References.)
While nurse practitioners can perform many physician-related duties — such as order and interpret the results of screening and diagnostic tests, and diagnose and treat disease — their role within the nursing profession complements that of other health care providers.
They are not second-tier physicians, nor assistants to physicians, but rather an integrative part of the health care team. Research has shown that nurse practitioners are very effective in helping patients with a wide variety of chronic health problems. And, in some cases, patients respond better under the care of a nurse practitioner rather than a physician.
Practising her profession at Pure North has been an exciting and rewarding experience. “We all have our own ways of practising and contributing to our patients’ health at Pure North,” Reid says, explaining that she also works with people in addiction recovery programs at Fresh Start and the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre, two of Pure North’s partners.
“But we all want the same things: we don’t want people to head into chronic disease and, if you do feel good, we want to keep you healthy.”
A Historical Overview of the Development of Advanced Practice Nursing Roles in Canada Nursing Leadership 23 (Special Issue) December 2010: 35-60.doi:10.12927/cjnl.2010.22268
“Myth: Seeing a nurse practitioner instead of a doctor is second-class care.” One of the Mythbusters series of essays published by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, 2002.