Melissa Stockwell has long had a passion for helping others. After working at a group home with people who have high medical needs, she realized nursing was her calling.
Stockwell is one of the students at Aurora College’s nursing program. She just completed the first year of her Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
“I love it,” she said of the program, saying the small class size has allowed her to get to know her peers and connect with knowledgable and skilled instructors.
“It’s just been a really great opportunity to have my degree done in the North because I feel like there’s more of a spotlight on Indigenous wellness and Indigenous community and how we can support people,” she said. “I’m hoping that’s going to make us better nurses in the long run.”
Stockwell said she first became interested in nursing growing up in northern Quebec and watching her father, who has worked as a nurse for nearly 37 years.
“I just saw the connections he made with the community and how he was helping the community,” she said. “There were only nurses there, there were no doctors, no dentists, no anything. So he kind-of took the lead role on everyone’s health.”
While she originally went into the social services field working with people with disabilities, Stockwell said she eventually realized she was destined to follow in her father’s footsteps.
She is particularly passionate about birthing services and has practised as a birth and postpartum doula in Yellowknife for the past three years.
“It’s such a magical moment,” she said of childbirth. “Looking at parents’ faces as their baby comes into the world and hearing that first cry, and seeing the excitement and feeling the energy in the room? It’s electrifying.”
Stockwell said she gave birth to her own two children at home with the assistance of midwives.
“I got to see a more natural, more relaxed approach to birth,” she said. “I want to be able to give a chance for other people to have those experiences, where it doesn’t feel overly medicalized and it just feels comforting and safe.”
‘I’m hopeful for the future’
While there is a nationwide shortage of nurses, they are particularly high in demand in the North.
There were increasing pressures on healthcare staff in the NWT during the Covid-19 pandemic. Non-emergency labour and delivery services were suspended in the territory from November 2021 to February 2022 due to a lack of staff. Some nurses at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife have alleged the added stress of Covid-19 exacerbated poor management and other issues at the hospital.
Stockwell said as a doula, she saw first-hand the disruption caused by people having to travel to Edmonton to give birth.
“It really shone a light on the issues that they were having on the ward, and not just on the ward, but at the hospital in general. We’re just so short-staffed,” she said.
While Stockwell is concerned about fighting burnout and maintaining a work-life balance as a nurse, she said she’s also excited for the challenge.
“There are so many people coming out of the program who are willing to put in the work and try to make those changes and hopefully build things back up at the hospital and everywhere,” she said. “I’m hopeful for the future.”
Many graduates from Aurora College’s program have remained in the North working at hospitals, health centres and long-term care facilities.
This week, the college celebrated its nursing students and graduates as part of National Nursing Week. This year’s theme is “we answer the call.”
“As nurses we must support our young students and future peers, and I want to recognize each of you today and thank you for what you do,” Aurora College president Dr Glenda Vardy Dell said in a statement.
“For those of you graduating, it will be an honour to welcome you into a profession of dedicated professionals who go above and beyond to each client they care for every day.”
Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green, also in a statement, said the territory’s nurses had “demonstrated their immeasurable strength and dedication to their profession and to residents, by volunteering for redeployment, working tirelessly to care for sick patients, delivering vaccines in every NWT community, providing testing services to those who needed it, and answering the call when and where they were needed.”
Green added: “To all NWT nurses, thank you for all that you do to keep us healthy and to comfort us and care for us during our most trying times.”