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

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

MP Damien Kurek receives his COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo submitted)
Local elected representatives get the jab

MP Damien Kurek and MLA Lovely get their COVID-19 vaccinations

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta’a chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that there are more than 328,000 vaccine appointments booked over the next seven days. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta surpasses 2 million doses administered of COVID-19 vaccine

Red Deer down to 835 active cases of COVID-19

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
Alberta RCMP investigating possible threat to police after Mirror rally

Images show RCMP members and vehicles in crosshairs of a rifle

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity, watchdog says

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

The historic Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne in southern Alberta is up for sale

The lights of several emergency vehicles could be seen near the Sunken Bridge on May 13. (Photo submitted)
Patient airlifted from Ponoka with serious injuries

RCMP, fire, STARS respond to single vehicle rollover May 13

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Most Read