How nurses impact communities
An interview with Felicia Derby, RN
It’s difficult to think about Fort McMurray without being reminded of its struggles. Fire, flood – and more recently – a COVID-19 state of emergency. Being downstream from the oilsands, there are also elevated risks of death by cancer and far too few resources to meet the medical needs this presents. Yet in this quiet Canadian community, unknown heroes silently touch the lives of its people and bring much needed care. Felicia Derby, a Registered Nurse (RN) and soon to be Nurse Practitioner (NP) is one such person.
- Did you choose nursing or did it choose you?
When I was four, I said to my parents, “I want to be a nurse so I can help people if they fall off a mountain.” So I guess it chose me. Caring for people has always been my language of love. As a small child, I always wanted to help my grandfather with his medicine and insulin injections. And my natural curiosity had me chasing after ambulances to see what was going on. In reflection, I can see that it has always been a fit for me.
- Can you say a bit about the challenges you faced in trying to complete your education?
I finished my RN studies in 2010, and I’m now wrapping up my Masters of Nursing: Nurse Practitioner – I’ll be graduating this month. Along the way, there have certainly been some setbacks.
Fort McMurray, my home for the last 15 years, has been faced with immense adversity in this time. I was, unfortunately, on mat leave during the wildfires so was unable to help on the frontlines, but I’ve had the opportunity to help during last year’s flood and the ongoing pandemic. Like many others, the pandemic forced me to change my plans, with me having to put over 200 Nurse Practitioner clinical training hours on hold.
When the pandemic eased last fall, I was determined to graduate on time, which meant having to condense many clinical hours into a small period of time. Thankfully, I had support through ARNET which afforded me the ability to step back from the frontlines and complete these hours on time. Having this funding had significantly eased my stress, especially given that I was concurrently juggling being a mom to two small children and working in the emergency department when possible.
Their help has been life changing. Without it, I would have had to defer my schooling which, in turn, would have deferred bringing much needed specialized care to the people in Fort McMurray.
- I understand your specialty is MAiD. What influenced your decision to pursue that?
A close friend of mine died as a result of cancer, and her end-of-life care was impersonable and cold. This experience opened my eyes to the importance of advocating for death with dignity and for having the tough conversations that we as healthcare providers often dance around.
When medical assistance in dying (MAiD) was legalized in Canada, I knew in my heart that I needed to be a part of this important service. Palliative care is a wonderful and vital service, but in my opinion, even the best natural death does not compare to a MAiD death. There is such value in the client having the opportunity to regain control in a time when they are suffering. The individuals who chose MAiD can have the important conversations with their loved ones and they can navigate grief with their loved ones before their death even occurs. Each MAiD provision that I’ve attended has solidified my belief that this is an absolutely vital service and has left me feeling privileged to be able to provide such peace to these clients.
While local interest in MAiD is gaining momentum, Fort McMurray currently only has one provider and assessor to serve the community. When my NP training is completed, I am happy to report that I will be the second MAiD assessor and provider in Fort McMurray. I look forward to working with our local MAiD team and being able to provide this service to members of our community.
In my new role as a MAiD provider, one of my goals is to increase the conversations about MAiD within our local healthcare community, in hopes of decreasing barriers to this service and increasing knowledge about the availability of MAiD in our community. A topic such as MAiD can be divisive due to the nature of the service, but my goal is to increase access to all individuals in our community, in keeping with Canada’s declaration that timely access to MAiD is a legal right of each and every Canadian.
What does the nursing profession currently look like to you, and where do you see it headed?
COVID-19 has shone a light on what’s at the foundation of nursing – compassion, working together for the greater good, and being dynamic. We’ve had to change and rise to challenges in ways we never thought possible, and have done so with grace and compassion.
I feel as though nursing has really moved toward the provision of evidence-based practice, which makes me proud to be a part of the profession. I am constantly seeing my colleagues engaging in courses to further their knowledge, which undoubtedly serves our patients well. Nursing has always been a trusted and coveted profession, a trend I believe will continue in the future.
- What might people be surprised to know about nurses?
In nursing, especially critical care nursing, there are often many tasks to complete in a short time. In the moment, we must turn off our emotional responses to get the work done. We keep excellent poker faces, maintaining our composure to exude confidence and to not appear emotional. I feel people would be surprised to know that once we step out of the room and the human aspect of the situation sinks in, our hearts hurt for our patients and their families.
We cry tears for these patients and oftentimes take them home with us. Regardless of this emotional toll and the ghosts we carry with us, we will continue to show up every day to provide excellent care to patients and their families.