Our Impact

Betty Gourlay: Pay it Back, Pay it Forward

Posted Dec 16, 2019

Betty Gourlay: Pay it Back, Pay it Forward

The 1990s were a time of anxiety for the nursing profession: wage rollbacks, bed closures, and layoffs. All were a constant concern, if not a reality. Many nurses looked for opportunities outside of Alberta or even outside of the profession.

Enter Betty Gourlay – entrepreneur and nurse extraordinaire.

Gourlay had spent much of her nursing career establishing herself as a staff nurse, administrator, educator and leader of the nursing profession. To this mix, she added continuing education – to become one of the first nurses working in independent practice in Canada.

She was now ready to share her knowledge with other nurses looking to strike out on their own. She conducted workshops focused on entrepreneurship, and she led the development of standards, policies and guidelines for independent practice both in Alberta and across Canada.

“Back then many nurses had the skills but no place to work,” says Gourlay. “It was a difficult time – our nursing education doesn’t prepare us to be entrepreneurs, it prepares us to be employees.”

That’s a fact she had learned from her BScN from the University of Alberta. But with the help of a $2500 scholarship from the (then) Alberta Association of Registered Nurses, she pursued additional studies and graduated with a master’s in health science from McMaster University in 1980.

Yet Gourlay knew she had still more to learn if she was ever to venture out on her own and make a living at it. “The question for me was what would people pay a nurse for in independent practice. What would be viable?”

So, she took a course in marketing at night in addition to her master’s studies during the day. There she learned about the tools and techniques needed to successfully market a business.  “I was overwhelmed (by the workload) but wanted to learn all that I could.”

Gourlay then took all she had learned and started her own business – CarePartners – an independent clinical practice in which she provided ideas and resources to clients adjusting to injury and health challenges. Gourlay retired in 2011.

The Role of ARNET

More than ever, with the spectre of health cuts looming, Gourlay today sees the need for the nursing profession to advance – to support nurses to be the best they can be. And she hasn’t forgotten the $2500 scholarship that helped her finance her master’s degree. Since the founding of the Alberta Registered Nurses Educational Trust (ARNET) in 1984, Gourlay has been a continual donor, a past chair and a frequent board member.

She recognizes that not all nurses can donate, particularly those with significant responsibilities. However, she points out that even a small contribution can make a difference. Gourlay is a firm believer in paying it forward.

“I called on a young nurse, and she told me she hadn’t donated anything because she could only give $10 a month. And I told her that if every nurse gave $10 a month, we would have $4 million more a year to share with other nurses.”

“No amount is too small; any amount is generous because it is what you can afford to give. Every little bit makes a difference.”

So, what is the reward for Betty at the end of the day?

“I get the chance to see recipients of funding attend a class, go to a conference they might not otherwise attend, or share the excitement of research they are pursuing”.

Reflecting on her role as a nurse educator, she says: “It’s the old teacher in me . . . I’m just thrilled to see my students do well.”.

Paying it Forward

Gourlay supports ARNET in several ways:

  • As a volunteer board member (using what she learned as a founding member of the Calgary Health Trust to inform ARNET decisions).
  • By participating in fundraisers.
  • By making donations in the name of nurses who have recently died.

One of the most significant ways is through “planned giving.” Gourlay bought a whole life insurance policy and named ARNET as the beneficiary.  Gourlay receives the benefit of a charitable tax receipt for the monthly Planned Giving policy premiums. She says the monthly premium is a little more than she might otherwise choose to give, but ARNET is the beneficiary of a larger amount of money at the end of the day.

Contact the ARNET office for more information on how your donation can have impact!