Aug 26, 2021, By: Wendy Jensen
Editor’s note: this written interview from Wendy Jensen is part of the Canadian Nurse True North series , focusing on the stories and practice of nurses who work in northern Canada under some of the country’s most challenging conditions.
My name is Wendy Jensen and I live in Coral Harbour, Nunavut, and work as a supervisor in a small health centre. I have travelled all over Northern Canada and have worked in Manitoba, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories for the last 19 years of my 29-year career. I have practised in over 50 communities, working as both a flight nurse and as a community health nurse in many health centres.
I can honestly say that living and working in Coral Harbour has been the most rewarding part of my career. I have always enjoyed the adventure of travelling to different communities, but settling in one community has really allowed me to embrace what I love most: the rich connection to the people and the land.
What drew you to northern nursing?
The draw to northern nursing began at a time in my life when I needed change. I had a passion for growth and adventure, as well as a need to find meaning in my work and personal life. I wanted to face new challenges, and I was beginning to question the “status quo” of institutions and governing bodies. I wanted a work environment that would allow me to connect to my peers and community. I felt like I had been on a treadmill, working hard but getting nowhere; I was ready to pursue something greater. I wanted to fully embrace what I saw as my missions in life: to inspire others, be a humanitarian, be kind, and to never leave anyone behind!
Can you tell us your most memorable story from your practice?
Over the 29 years of my career, I have had many incredible experiences. Flying with a medevac crew is always a rush and something I do often, but my most memorable adventure involves a simpler form of transportation: a snowmobile! We were in northern Manitoba during the spring break up, when the lakes are not passable by vehicle. It was after dark and we had a patient who urgently needed to be flown to the closest city, but the airport was located on another island. The only way across was by helicopter during the day or snowmobile at night. It was an emergency, so despite the freezing temperatures, we bundled him up for the trip. The doctor and the driver were riding in the snowmobile while I was with the patient, in a sled under a tarp. We got him to the airport, where a plane we had managed to reserve was waiting for us. It was a very intense but exciting ride and better yet, the ending was fortunate: I saw the client one month later in much better physical condition than when we had transported him.
We often hear that northern nurses work to their “full scope of practice.” What does that mean for you?
Working as a nurse in northern Canada has really allowed me to explore the concept of “full scope of practice.” Nursing in the North requires autonomy and teamwork to deliver primary and emergency care. Because we’re often working with limited resources, you develop a broad perspective of providing medical services to a community with many needs. Your practice expands beyond the patients you see at the health centre and you adopt a more holistic approach that puts health prevention and promotion at the forefront. You work with the people in the communities and you use the limited resource that are available.
How has COVID-19 affected your practice?
During this COVID-19 pandemic we have really witnessed everyone coming together to work with health professionals to protect the people of our community and Nunavut. In fact, the people here seem to have an innate wisdom to reduce the spread of COVID-19 — a wisdom that isn’t fully recognized by public health officials. After over a year of negotiating this pandemic, I have realized that we, as nurses who are acting as advocates for health, need to follow more conventional means of holistic health to control the spread of COVID-19.
What do you like to do for fun?
I’m inspired by nature and passionate by choice! My nursing colleague and I recently got ourselves a cabin and an Alaskan Malamute puppy. We spend a lot of time training him and are going to teach him to pull a sled. His name is Luutta, which means doctor in the Baffin Inuktitut dialect. Whenever we can, we spend time at the cabin and, when we’re not there, we love to join our Coral Harbour friends in many of the activities that our community embraces. We have gone to see the walruses on Walrus Island, hunted geese, and went to a crab jigging contest — and more! My hobbies include real estate investing, personal growth and development, coaching others to achieve their full potential, and travel and adventure seeking. Above all, I am a humanitarian and stand for ideas that allow others to live healthier, happier lives.