How Nurses Impact Primary Care: An interview with Leah Malazdrewicz, RN
Leah Malazdrewicz, a Registered Nurse (RN) in Alberta responded to one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in North America – the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River. This heroic act not only affected the lives of plant employees, but also effectively contained rampant spread of the virus throughout the community.
Leah continues to impact the lives of many in the day-to-day care that she provides through the Calgary Rural Primary Care Network in the High River, Alberta.
1. Why did you choose this profession?
I grew up with many amazing women who taught me about caring and supporting others. I also had a job as a lifeguard in high school where I enjoyed learning about health and safety. Throughout my career, I’ve had different types of jobs in nursing – mostly in medical surgical units, though I’ve also worked in palliative care, flu clinics and the Prostate Cancer Centre. My current role in Primary Care has been very rewarding but I also enjoyed my role as a palliative care nurse, because it gave me the opportunity to make someone’s last moments special for them and their family.
2. Was there ever a time when thought you might give up nursing, and if so, what made you stay?
While I’ve questioned at times whether I could carry on in particular role, what’s gotten me through it was the support of my team. Everyone has moments where they struggle and get tired, but being surrounded by the right people that you can lean on when things are hard really helps me carry on. I am also surrounded by excellent leaders and role models who inspire and encourage myself and our team with their positive energy and resiliency.
3. Can you describe what you experienced in responding to the Cargill COVID-19 outbreak last year?
When something like an outbreak happens, you need to react acutely to the situation. We didn’t have a lot of time to think about the risks to ourselves because the outbreak was spreading so quickly we were more concerned about our patients and people in the community. We were trying to prepare our response with limited time and resources, when we had no idea what to expect in the days or weeks ahead. You just did what you needed to do in that moment, try to learn from mistakes and be as prepared as possible. The alarm bell was always going as you waited for the next problem and tried to anticipate how to best react. It was exhausting, but at the end of the Cargill outbreak I felt very proud of what the Calgary Rural Primary Care Network accomplished. I feel we made a positive impact for our patients and our communities.
4. How has ARNET’s support impacted you personally?
ARNET supported me in my nutrition studies a few years ago. The knowledge I gained from that course has informed the care I’m able to give patients who struggle with chronic diseases, for instance, with obesity or Diabetes.
5. Where has your learning interest turned to these days?
I’m currently working towards becoming a certified diabetes educator. Diabetes is a fast changing field right now and with the rates of diabetes climbing each year so much more support will be needed in the years to come. The learning is endless and keeps changing based on new clinical evidence. Today, better guidelines for screening, monitoring and management can significantly improve outcomes. I also enjoy taking extra courses in communication, leadership and trauma informed care. Trauma informed care is approaching patient care with the respect and recognition that we have all experienced some trauma, that we are all on our own journey and have our own unique experiences and struggles. I feel these skills add to the human experience in health care and supports better connections with health care practitioners and promotes better patient outcomes.
6. What would you like us to know about nurses?
Please know that on a day-to-day basis, we’re human too and trying our best. We do our very best to put the needs of others first and at times that does take its toll. The healthcare system isn’t perfect in any province, and sometimes there are communication or policy issues that fall outside of our control. Like many people, we rely on the support of our leaders to help us do our jobs well.
7. What do nurses need to do their best work?
I feel nurses are best supported with opportunities for meaningful education, networking and mentorship. Building relationships and working alongside amazing nurses, allied health care professionals and leaders provides opportunities to learn in grow in areas that interest you. Helping nurses to be the healthiest version of themselves would without a doubt have a positive impact on patient care, our communities and our healthcare system. The skills nurses can develop to promote optimal health for our patients are endless and really do positively impact patient outcomes, so getting support with finances, education time and opportunities for networking is really important.
8. Where would you like to see the medical profession headed?
Primary care is an under developed yet incredibly financially efficient resource in our healthcare system. Not a lot of money goes into primary care compared to other health care programs, yet the patient outcomes are remarkable. I hope it becomes more cohesive across Canada because there are many benefits to our patients, families and communities.
I know patients within the Calgary Rural Primary Care Network really appreciate being able to access many health services in their medical home (Doctor’s office) or their community rather than travelling to a larger city. This includes support from doctors, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, diabetes educators, dieticians, social workers, foot care specialists, behavior change specialists and many more allied health professionals. Primary Care networks focus on health promotion and disease prevention and I feel when people have better access to these supports, the health of our patients, families and communities will thrive.