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How training helps the nurses answering the NWT’s 811 calls

Kim, a nurse answering some of the NWT's 811 calls.
Kim, an employee at Fonemed, which runs the NWT's 811 helpline.

Nurses answering the NWT’s 811 calls may be based in Newfoundland and Labrador, but the territory says they’ve completed extensive training to make sure they’re ready to help patients.

That includes taking the territorial government’s Living Well Together training on Indigenous cultural awareness and sensitivity, and learning the NWT’s Public Health Act.

Jennifer, a nurse and senior team lead, said Fonemed staff can also support Northwest Territories residents with questions specific to things happening in the territory, such as community evacuations due to wildfires or flooding.

This article is the second in a three-part series where we meet the registered nurses behind the NWT’s 811 non-urgent health line, learn what training they’ve done to be ready to meet the needs of NWT patients, and understand what types of questions the 811 nurses are able to answer. To help protect the nurses’ privacy, Cabin Radio is only using their first names.

“All of the resources that we have are pertinent, they’re up to date, and they’re directly from the [NWT] government,” said Jennifer, adding that nurses are familiar with other NWT resources and may refer callers to those services if necessary.



“I get emotional just talking about [the Living Well training]. I think it was some of the best, most useful, most impactful training that I’ve ever had,” said Kim, a registered nurse and director of clinical and client services at Fonemed, the company that provides telephone triage service to NWT patients. 

“The training explained the history of colonization – the true history of colonization,”  she continued, adding the modules furthered her understanding of residential schools, anti-racism, basic human rights and conflict resolution, and helped her understand how she can support reconciliation and decolonization.

All territorial government staff must take the training, which is also available to the public. Kim said everyone in Canada should take it, a sentiment echoed by other registered nurses at Fonemed.

Richard, a registered nurse who worked mainly in mental health before joining Fonemed, was affected by the personal accounts in Living Well Together.



“I think it’s important to acknowledge it and be cognizant of [people’s backgrounds and experiences] when you’re providing care,” he said.

Karen, a registered nurse who focused on labour and delivery for most of her career, said the cultural training highlighted the importance of CanTalk, an on-demand interpretation service Fonemed uses when a patient wants care in their own language. 

CanTalk offers translation services for Dëne Sųłıné Yatıé, nēhiyawēwin, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Dene Kǝdǝ́, Dene Zhatıé, English and French.

Karen recalled a Dene speaker in a training video discussing how his language was taken away as a child.

“That’s one thing we can offer at 811 … it allows people to speak in their language. To me, that’s a great step toward decolonization.”

To date, she has assisted one caller speaking Inuktitut with the help of a translator.

“People are people, no matter where they are,” said Cyrilla, another nurse and team lead. “The symptoms and the problems are the same.”

Fonemed says its registered nurses are cross-trained, meaning the skills they learn during training for other programs – for example, the company also runs Newfoundland’s mental health and addictions crisis line – can be applied to calls coming in from the Northwest Territories. The nurses have taken courses like Asist, a suicide prevention training program, and undergo training throughout the year.



New hires must have two years’ experience in acute care and begin by spending eight days in the classroom, taking in everything from the software Fonemed uses to mental health and addictions training.

Next, the hires are assigned to 40 hours’ training with a senior nurse, listening to them answer calls before the roles reverse – the senior nurse listens and provides feedback.

Regular audits take place throughout the year, helping nurses learn how to better ask questions.

“Each team leader’s goal is to help each teletriage nurse be the best they can be,” said Kim.

“Audits make you a better nurse,” said Richard on the mentorship aspect of his training. “There’s this comfort that came with repetition and getting feedback.”

He explained that while he was initially more comfortable with mental health calls than calls about pregnancy, his team lead coached him to be ready and comfortable to take any call that came in.

“You need a lot of experience to be a teletriage nurse in the fact that we deal with so many different situations,” said Cyrilla, “but it’s easily learned through the training provided.”

This article appears as part of a paid partnership between Cabin Radio and the Government of the Northwest Territories to promote the free 811 service in the Northwest Territories. To learn more, visit