Spotlight on alumni
Peggy Earl is the executive director of the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador. Her career in nursing started in the surgical unit of the Gander hospital and took her to some far flung places such as Indonesia and Chile where she worked as a consultant helping establish nursing education standards and programs. She recently talked with our contributor Bojan Fürst.
BF: Tell me a little bit about Peggy Earl. Where did you grow up?
PE: I grew up in Carbonear. I was born and raised there. There were five of us siblings. It was a big family and a happy childhood.
BF: Why nursing?
PE: I don’t remember wanting to be anything else. And I don’t remember that spark that said I want to be a nurse. I had influential nurses in my life, in my circle of family and friends. I had aunts and cousins and neighbours who were nurses who I admired and respected. As a child I volunteered in a hospital and did home care courses that nurses taught and that impressed me. It was all a positive experience, but I can’t say what made me pick nursing. I always wanted to be a nurse and I never regretted it. I graduated in 1977 from Memorial. Those were the early days of the BN program. Most nurses in Newfoundland were educated through hospital based diploma programs. We were new creatures [laughter].
BF: What was the program like?
PE: It was a small program. We started out with 34 or 36 students in nursing and we lost half of them. It was a rigorous program and some people decided that they did not want to do nursing. So we whittled it down to about 17. I made lifelong friends. We still get together. I made friends with our faculty. Profs were really interested in helping you learn everything you needed to learn and stimulate your thinking. It was all about making us into critical thinkers. It was a really great experience.
BF: What was the transition like from school to clinical care?
PE: I was very fortunate because every summer I worked as a student nurse in Carbonear General Hospital. The nurses there took me under their wing. I don’t know if they knew the word “mentor” in those days, but they mentored me. They took it as a personal accomplishment if I accomplished anything. It was reality based experience, so when I started my first nursing position I had the benefit of having those summer experiences. In those days, you had very little orientation and I remember then in a week I was working nights. The education paid off and the experiences paid off.
BF: Tell me about your work here.
PE: I work with the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador. We are the regulatory body for registered nurses. We license nurses. All nurses, whether college or baccalaureate graduates, need to register with us in order to get a licence to practise. On an annual basis they need to renew their licence. That means that they met the qualifications to be a nurse. There are also nurse practitioners. A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse and they are licensed by us as well. We also administer licensing exams, which is a national exam. Once they graduate and pass their exam they can practise anywhere in Canada.
BF: How did the profession change? The scope of nursing is huge.
PE: The profession has matured. No nurse should ever be bored with what they do, which is why I will never regret being a nurse. You can be a real generalist who can work with any age group, in any health care setting. You can develop more competencies and get further education and work in specialist areas. You can work in settings like health promotion as a community health nurse. There is long term care, palliative care -- 77 per cent of nurses still work in institutional settings. We often have an intimate relationship with our patients. One of the sayings I love is that as nurses we work with people when they are most vulnerable or in their most intimate moments. You can work in all those areas. You have to find your niche. And if you don’t like what you’re doing, look around. We have approximately 6,000 practising nurses and about 2,400 of them work outside of major centres. They are often primary health providers. Thanks to modern technology, most of the smaller centres are linked up now through tele-health with larger centres. That improves the level of care drastically and the level of comfort of the nurse -- just knowing that they have that level of support.
BF: How much movement is there among the nurses between the provinces?
PE: We are actually starting to see some movement back [to Newfoundland and Labrador], which we are really pleased about. We have a shortage of nurses in Newfoundland and we are going to have it for the foreseeable future. The average age of nurses in Newfoundland is 44 and we are seeing a lot of retirements now and we expect that number to peak by 2012. We are actively recruiting nurses and one of the strategies is to recruit from other provinces that we know we lost some nurses to. In addition, the provincial health care system has been recruiting internationally. Now we are seeing a real surge in applications from nurses trained internationally, particularly from India.
BF: Is there a number you can put on the current shortage of nurses in the province?
PE: Unofficially, it’s around 350-400. Of course, the rural areas are hit harder than urban areas. However, most nurses work in a shortage situation and that is one of our biggest challenges. One thing that is really helping us is that the provincial government and the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Union negotiated a good contract last year.