THUNDER BAY – HEALTH – A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is a nurse with advanced university education who works both independently and in collaboration with other health professionals to provide patients and families with quality health care services. Ontario has more than 2,000 Nurse Practitioners who work in a diverse range of community and hospital settings across the province.
We asked a few members of the NP team at our Health Sciences Centre to share thoughts about their role and experience. This week, we’re featuring Sharon Jaspers.
Why did you decide to become a Nurse Practitioner?
I had the opportunity to be involved in various nursing positions, from critical care, student nurse education, staff nurse education and patient education. Each position was interesting and challenging. After being involved as a diabetes nurse educator for numerous years, the role of nurse practitioner intrigued me as it started to evolve as a new primary health care role in Ontario in early 2000. Education was accessible in Thunder Bay with a program offered by Lakehead University and 8 other universities as a collaborative program in Ontario.
Nurse practitioners have an expanded scope of practice in nursing. This was a new opportunity in nursing and I was inspired by nurse practitioners that were pioneers in this field – primary care services. I enjoyed the outpatient setting of care and loved the challenge of diversity in primary care from pregnancy to seniors. My first position in primary care was at Norwest Community Health Centres, definitely a great experience. I have now been employed at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre in the Stroke Prevention Clinic (SPC) for 10 years.
Tell us about your role with the Stroke Prevention Clinic (SPC):
The Stroke Prevention Clinic at our Health Sciences Centre is a part of the Northwestern Ontario Regional Stroke Network. We’re an outpatient clinic for people who have had recent diagnosis of a stroke or TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack). As a nurse practitioner in the clinic, my role is to assess patients’ risk for stroke by reviewing vascular risk factors and investigating the causes or causes of stroke/TIA. This involves initiating and/or following up on diagnostic imaging and laboratory tests as well as providing education regarding strategies to minimize stroke re-occurrence. This may include lifestyle modifications as well as prescribing and monitoring tolerance of medications. The nurse practitioner role is part of an interdisciplinary team that works collaboratively with two neurologists, the stroke program dietitian and program secretary.
What is the most challenging part of your profession?
Our Stroke Prevention Clinic services the Thunder Bay area as well as the Northwestern Ontario region. When people exhibit signs of a TIA or mild stroke, they are referred to this clinic. Our geography and weather can make travel challenging. Triaging or determining the priority of patients’ treatment is time sensitive. Working with the team, we try to utilize available diagnostic and laboratory services in patients’ home communities and access telemedicine consultation as much as possible. We are currently working on an initiative to streamline referrals to the SPC at our Health Sciences Centre.
A challenging part of my role is dealing with the complex social issues that are part of some people’s lives.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your profession?
As a nurse practitioner in the SPC, my role often presents itself as a navigator of the health care system for patients. A diagnosis of stroke/TIA can be a stressful experience. Assisting patients with understanding their health situation, explaining the investigations recommended and exploring choices in self-management is a privilege. A stroke/TIA is a situational crisis for many and my role provides me with opportunities to engage and connect with patients and their families/friends in meaningful ways.
In addition I have had the privilege of being involved on a national perspective in developing guidelines for care providers for Secondary Stroke Prevention (Canadian Stroke Best Practice Recommendations) for the past few years. Along with several research initiatives that have received grant funding, this makes the SPC an interesting place to work.
Health care certainly has changed since I graduated. There is now a greater focuses on the interdisciplinary health team and nurse practitioners have been recognized as team players. I appreciate that the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) has encouraged this focus in their program. Since the inauguration of NOSM I have been a part of their faculty.
Advice for those considering a career as a Nurse Practitioner
Nurse Practitioners are an integral part of the health care team. Our Hospital has been a leader in the field by utilizing nurse practitioners to their full scope as an expanded practice profession to enhance patient care delivery. As a nurse practitioner you have autonomy and the ability to diagnose and treat disease and monitor chronic health conditions, along with utilizing educational/motivational skills that can bring positive change in people’s lives.