May 10, 2017

National Nursing Week Professional Profile Series: Barbara Anderson

What inspired you to become a nurse?

Nursing provides me with many opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives. It satisfies me because it blends my love of science and evidence with caring and compassion. While I didn’t have any nurses in my family, a goal of mine through high school was to attend a nursing program after graduating. I achieved my goal at Oshawa’s Durham College.

More than two decades later, I completed my master’s degree at the University of Toronto, while working fulltime in a correctional facility and raising a family. My mother also worked in long-term care facilities as a personal support worker which allowed me to witness the impact of caring and compassion.

How has your role changed over the years?

I have been a direct-care Registered Nurse (RN), in both traditional and unique-care environments. My first ten years of nursing I spent as a visiting nurse with St. Elizabeth Healthcare and the Victorian Order of Nurses. Then, I worked fulltime in a maximum-security prison. That was a fascinating environment.  After that, I worked in psychiatry for a couple of years. All in all, I’d describe my nursing work environments as unique and interesting.

In 1998, I secured my first role as a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). My focus is primarily in rehabilitation and complex continuing care, first at Bridgepoint, then with West Park. While I enjoy an active clinical practice, my role encompasses professional development, organizational leadership, education and scholarship. I coach, mentor, teach, research and publish--activities that make for a busy day on top of clinical duties.

However, my “drill down” area of expertise is incontinence and catheter-related problems. I teach that in a program at McMaster University. And, I am the palliative care nurse specialist for West Park, partnering with a physician and consulting with a palliative care team.

My passion surrounds all the work I do. I look forward to coming into work every day. I’m excited by the diversity. It is interesting, with every day being a bit different.


What is the biggest challenge you face as a hospital clinician?

In answering this question, I think about my role on our amputee unit. The big challenge is helping people navigate our complex healthcare system and patient complexities related to the socio-economic determinants of health--basic things like access to housing.

Patient access to services and meeting eligibility requirements for equipment, for example, and some of the barriers patients face if they don’t have an address are big challenges. When you work in supportive palliative care, you might have a patient ready to go home but cannot without the support of the local Community Care Access Centre (CCAC). But the patient may not meet the eligibility requirement to access a certain kind of bed. It‘s challenging but rewarding when you are able to help the patient finally get what they need.


Have you had a career-defining moment--one patient or one case--which reaffirmed that you are truly making a difference?

Over the course of 40 years, I’ve had many patient care experiences to reflect upon. Most recently, it’s been while working with patients to help them achieve their end-of-life goals. Whatever their goals are. These experiences have evoked profound soulful moments in my career and in my life. As a nurse, and a human being, I am inspired by the courage and perspectives of these patients.

Some of the work we’ve done is around “comfort interviews.” It involves determining a range of comfort issues. For example, a patient who can’t swallow has a wish to have something nice to eat. That may not be possible. But, it may be possible to pipe textured food that might aesthetically look like, say, spaghetti.

In this way, we’re trying to determine: “what would give comfort to this patient?” It’s about understanding what matters to them as a human being and what would be helpful.


Nursing roles are ever-evolving and this year’s National Nursing Week theme is “#YESThisIsNursing”. What is one thing readers might be surprised to learn is part of your role as a nurse?

Contributing to the development of nursing knowledge and evidence-based practice is something about which I am most proud. The scholarly publications I’ve contributed to, and potentially influencing the next generation of nurses, is exciting, especially if I can get this generation to challenge taken-for-granted care practices.

A recent highlight of my scholarship was being first author on a paper about transforming the language and practices around WestPark’s after-death care policy. I did a broad examination of practices, going as far as conducting interviews with local funeral home staffs. That was fascinating.  I primarily examined the language around bodies and remains. I am proud to say my paper was accepted by the online International Practice Development Journal; it will be published in May.


How does being part of a national GPO support your role as a hospital clinician?

My role with HealthPRO on the Clinical Advisory Committee gives me expertise in developing and weighting clinical criteria. I’ve developed an understanding of contract processes, legislative requirements and understanding how we make contract decisions. This experience and knowledge supports my role as co-chair of WestPark’s Product Evaluation and Standardization Committee.

I enjoy networking with people from across the country and like bringing the unique perspective of a rehabilitation and complex care environment to our discussions.

Nurses work in a complex world. They need to understand clinical criteria but also the financial aspects, legislative and contracts requirements related to their work.


I am a nurse because…

I can provide person-centred care that makes a difference. I support and influence others to do the same. The after-death care work we did is an example of that.