Today is International Nurses Day and National Nursing Week!
Let’s take a moment to go back in time.
Florence Nightingale, born May 12, 1829, known as “The Lady With the Lamp” was a pioneer of nursing and the founder of modern nursing. Her work during the Crimean War led to the opening of St. Thomas’s Hospital and within, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in 1860, heavily influencing quality of care in the 19th and 20th centuries. So much so, that various poems, songs and plays were created and dedicated in her honour as a figure of public admiration. Thanks to Nightingale, nursing began to be considered an honourable vocation by the upper classes.
To honour her legacy, in 1971, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) designated Nightingale’s birthday, May 12, as International Nurses Day. In 1985, the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) members passed a resolution to begin negotiations with the federal government to have the week containing May 12 proclaimed as National Nurses Week annually. Soon after, the federal minister of health proclaimed the second week of May as National Nurses Week. In 1993, the name was changed to National Nursing Week to emphasize the profession's accomplishments as a discipline.
We recognize and celebrate the hard work put in by nurses across Ontario, Canada and beyond. Thank you to all the amazing nurses out there, you are greatly appreciated!
Today we would like to introduce you to one of our own Occupational Health Nurses (OHN), Vice President, Client Outreach, Stakeholder & Government Relations, Henrietta Van hulle!
Can you briefly outline your professional background?
I was a frontline staff nurse in a hospital for 17 years, providing patient care in a medical surgical unit. I shifted over to Occupational Health and Safety and Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) after being the Registered Nurse (RN) rep on our hospital’s Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) and having a conversation with our OHN at the time. This led me to taking courses to get my OHN and IPAC certificates. Once I completed my education, I applied for certification as an OHN with the Canadian Nurses Association, the national forum where nurses with various specialties can get their certifications.
What is an OHN?
OHNs work in many workplaces from hospitals to manufacturing facilities and. An OHN provides service to a worker and a workplace, rather than a patient in a clinical setting. They support various components of occupational health and safety, injury prevention, first aid, disability management, and more. Depending on the size of the organization, they may focus on a specific area. Their focus is on worker and workplace health, safety, and wellbeing.
Why did you want to become a nurse?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work in a helping profession. Initially I was not sure if I wanted to be a veterinarian, nurse or another healthcare professional. I cannot recall when the exact shift happened, but the desire to help was prominent all through my life.
While practicing frontline nursing I became inspired to make conditions safer for nurses through my role on the JHSC and our OHN at the time. The primary purpose of a nurse is to support and care for the patient and I wanted to make sure that while nurses were doing that, there was not going to be any detrimental effect to them as a person The goal is to prevent physical or psychological injury or illness to those who chose to dedicate their life to other people.
In your opinion, what are the biggest stigmas in healthcare?
I think a big stigma or perception would be that because you are a caregiver, you are always going to be okay yourself. Caregivers must actively work at and acknowledge that they can also be ill physically or psychologically or need support to stay well. They should be accessing all the same resources and services that we tell our patients or workers to utilize to be healthy and safe.
What does the day in the life of an OHN look like?
An OHNs focus is going to be on the worker, making sure workers can show up for work and leave work in the same condition. They spend a lot of time on retention, reducing absenteeism, making sure that workers can do their day-to-day work, that they are in a condition where they feel safe at work and can go about their business without fear of injury. They have the ability to critically think and produce solutions to reduce the risk of injury. The same critical thinking skills that a nurse has for a patient: an OHN also has for people who work in their organization.
What are common challenges you face as an OHN?
One of the challenges is to get the message across to people in a caring position that they also have a responsibility to protect themselves while they are providing care. If they are not well or they are injured, then they really cannot provide the kind of quality care they would normally want to. In a non-healthcare setting it is very similar. You cannot be as productive in your work if you are worried about your safety all the time. An OHN can bring forward recommendations or suggestions to improve safety on the job so there is less stress and strain on a worker.
Can you give me an example of a typical high-pressure situation?
Honestly, COVID. From an infectious disease standpoint, there are lots of things changing on a day-to-day basis. When there is something new, we are trying to address, there is uncertainty about what the risk is to the worker. I think that trying to make sure you put enough controls in place to reduce the risk to an accepted level is one of the biggest pressures. Another example would be adjusting to change and making sure everyone knows what they must do, what control measures, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), cleaning, screening, etc., are required so there is a reduced risk to workers but also patients, the public and others coming into the hospital or the workplace.
What is the best advice you have received in your professional career?
When I was taking one of my occupational health nursing courses, one of the instructors said to me that the practice of occupational health nursing is so broad and there are so many components that you will not always be able to keep on top of everything. Sometimes it’s okay to say, “Let me look into that and get back to you”. You always want to be up to date with leading practices, have the best evidence, and use the precautionary principle.
What advice would you give to someone new to the field, or considering nursing school?
You cannot look after others if you do not look after yourself, and never stop learning.
Anything else you would like to share about the field of nursing?
The field of nursing in general is so diverse and you can work in almost any area. If you want to care for other people, there is somewhere in nursing you can fit. Whether it’s as an OHN, emergency, gerontology, community care, a clinic, psychiatry, and so much more, the nursing field is so broad. Come join us- #WeAnswerTheCall.
International Council of Nurses (ICN)
Canadian Nurses Association (CAN)
Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Association (OOHNA)
Violence, Aggression & Responsive Behaviours Toolkit | PSHSA (Public Services Health & Safety Association)
Workplace Violence in Healthcare | PSHSA
Mental Health Stay at Work and Return to Work for Healthcare Organizations | PSHSA
Health Care Section 21 Committee | MLTSD (Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development) and PSHSA
Healthcare and Community Services Sector Training | PSHSA
Joint Health & Safety Committee (JHSC) | PSHSA
COVID-19 Resource Centre | PSHSA