Sang Hee (Sunny) Baek began studying at the University of Toronto’s nursing program in September 2020 just as the second wave of the pandemic was hitting Ontario, leaving her wondering if she’d picked the right career path. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Lawrence S. Bloomberg School of Nursing, University of Toronto *MANDATORY CREDIT *

Sang Hee (Sunny) Baek began studying at the University of Toronto’s nursing program in September 2020 just as the second wave of the pandemic was hitting Ontario, leaving her wondering if she’d picked the right career path. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Lawrence S. Bloomberg School of Nursing, University of Toronto *MANDATORY CREDIT *

Future nurses, doctors want lessons from pandemic to create better health-care system

Pandemic has fuelled passions to enter life-changing careers

Sang Hee Baek started nursing school at the University of Toronto last fall as the second wave of the pandemic was putting health-care staff in parts of the country through an endurance test, making her wonder if she’d made the right career choice.

Nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and others working with COVID-19 patients were becoming physically and mentally exhausted as some hospitals filled up, deaths climbed and vaccines were not yet a reality.

“I was worried a little bit,” 30-year-old Baek said, recalling the questions she asked herself: “Am I making the choice at the right time or am I not knowing enough to enter this profession and solely relying on my passion?”

She’d applied to nursing school in her last year of a life sciences degree after connecting with community health nurses working with marginalized people, including deaf and hard of hearing adolescents who faced challenges making an appointment to see a family doctor.

“The waiting time for them to just book a translator service can be up to two weeks,” said Baek, who learned sign language to better understand their needs.

“That just made me look further into what’s going on with the Canadian health-care system and made me think: “I want to be a part of this. And if I want to be a part of it I want to be a nurse.”

The pandemic ultimately fuelled Baek’s passion for nursing as she realized the burden being carried by essential workers who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“I think it’s a chance for many of the nursing students or medical students, anyone who wishes to offer something to the field, to take it as kind of a mission,” she said of her decision to forge ahead in nursing with a greater awareness about the specific needs of diverse communities.

Baek’s sentiments about a career in health care are shared across the country as nursing schools see a rise in applicants, although the vast majority among the diverse talent pool aren’t being accepted due to a lack of spaces.

Elizabeth Saewyc, director of the University of British Columbia’s school of nursing, said a number of applicants over the last year have mentioned the pandemic motivated them to take on the challenges of a job that could have them saving lives.

She said others pointed out they saw more clearly how inequity is affecting marginalized populations during the pandemic.

The importance of nurses in the treatment of Spanish flu patients served as an impetus for the establishment of the University of B.C.’s nursing program in 1919.

Now, Saewyc said the COVID-19 pandemic has again revealed the value of nursing, with hundreds of applicants vying for 120 coveted spots at the University.

“In previous years we generally had between 500 and 600 applications and this year it was 860,” she said. “In our nurse practitioner and masters of science in nursing programs we’ve seen a 50 per cent or greater uptick in numbers of applicants, and even in our PhD program we saw a jump in terms of the number of applications.”

Lesley Mak, assistant dean and registrar at the University of Toronto’s school of nursing, said applications for the undergraduate program have jumped by almost 25 per cent, while those for the graduate degree have risen by around 20 per cent.

Kimberley Thomson of Prince George, B.C., is in her first year of medical school at UBC and is the western regional director of the Black Medical Students Association of Canada.

Thomson is hoping that the lessons learned about the gaps in the health-care system during the pandemic will better serve patients and health-care professionals who have been overwhelmed and overworked.

Neither she nor her fellow students have been deterred from pursuing their dreams of becoming a doctor.

But Thomson has come to understand that addressing issues like burnout among those working in hospitals that are running out of beds in the third wave of the pandemic will have to involve systemic changes after COVID-19 is over.

“That was a really interesting turning point for me because I started realizing that there’s some bigger system-level issues that I’m going to have to be going into as I continue in my career,” she said.

Expecting doctors to be personally responsible for making changes in their lives won’t improve the overall health-care system itself, Thomson said.

“So people are sometimes told, ‘Focus on meditating, your own well-being, exercise, eat well.’ Those are all great, but it detracts attention from the system-level issues, that people are working in these really toxic environments,” she said, referring to low staffing levels and a lack of resources such as personal protective equipment.

“I’m worried about, down the road, experiencing burnout and not loving and being passionate about what I do. That would be my biggest worry.”

READ MORE: Rates of hospitalization, ICU admission from COVID-19 rising across Canada

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusHealthcare

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The current location of Comox Valley Search and Rescue on Moray Avenue in Courtenay. Google Maps photo
Comox Valley Search and Rescue aiming to purchase a roof for their rescuers

Their goal is to raise between $1.2 and $1.5 million, approximately the purchase price of a facility

A bear is seen walking down Alderwood Place in east Courtenay Sunday (May 9) morning. Video screenshot/Kristie Cave
Video: Bears spotted throughout Comox Valley

Hide food sources, keep garbage away: conservation

Carter Woods was first across the line at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, Saturday in Altstadt, Germany. File photo
Cumberland mountain biker wins World Cup race in Germany

Carter Woods of Cumberland won a World Cup mountain bike race Saturday… Continue reading

The flowers of Darmera peltata (Indian rhubarb) before the leaves emerge. Photo by Leslie Cox
DUCHESS OF DIRT: Plenty of ‘wow’ factor in the garden in spring

Leslie Cox Special to The Record I can’t help it. I like… Continue reading

WestJet in flight. Black Press file photo
Two COVID exposures on WestJet flight into Comox

The BC Centre for Disease Control has posted advisories for two separate… Continue reading

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

The only access to 5th Street bridge heading east (toward Lewis Park) is via Anderton Avenue. Photo by Terry Farrell.
Single lane alternating traffic controls on Courtenay bridge now in effect

Single lane alternating traffic on the 5th Street Bridge is now in… Continue reading

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read