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For the Love of Nursing: Jennifer Fontaine

February 27, 2020

Jennifer Fontaine

The following is an interview from one of our student advisors here at Red River College:

Twenty years ago, I made the decision to work in the most rewarding career. I have never regretted this decision. How could you not love a career where you work with people and help them on their most difficult day. Or celebrate with them as they recover from an illness. Now I share my knowledge, experience, and love for the profession with students, encouraging them and celebrating with them as they complete their program and start their journey into the nursing profession! My name is Jennifer Fontaine; I am a nursing instructor/student advisor in the nursing program at Red River College.

When did you graduate from nursing and from which program?

I completed my degree in Nursing at the University of Manitoba in 2000. I started working as a graduate nurse in December of 1999. Since they were very short of nurses in the workforce that year, there was a small group of us who completed the 4th year of our program by fast-tracking (those of us who did this called it fast-fast tracking!!). We finished our 3rd year of the program in April, had a week off and then started 4th year and were done by December! It was very intense.

What was the most memorable moment of your nursing student life?

The most memorable moments of my nursing student life was making the connections from theory to practice, making life-long friends that I did my program with, and that although it was so much work, the end result was well worth it!

Where did you first work as a nurse? What was your first day like? What kind of emotions did you feel? What were some coping strategies?

I started working as a graduate nurse on a surgical ward at St. Boniface Hospital. I was offered a job there before I had completed my Senior Practicum. I remember coming to work for my first shift as a grad nurse thinking “wow, yesterday I was a student and today I am on my own.” That first shift I had a critically ill patient who I ended up transferring to ICU. I was so nervous. My team-mates from the surgical unit (whom I got to know from doing my Senior Practicum) helped support/guide me and gave me many words of encouragement. I was not alone. I had a great team of experienced nurses that I could lean on. I had to remember that and I had to remind myself often that I was a novice nurse who was still learning. This was okay. The experience would come. This helped me to get through that first day and many other days. I was also always the type of person who was never scared to ask questions. My motto became that when in doubt, check or ask questions first!

Thinking back, did you ever imagine that you would be doing what you are doing now?

When I started nursing school, I thought I would always work in public health, but once I started getting closer to the completion of my nursing program, I realized that I liked working in acute areas. I ended up working in surgery for a while, then going on to work adult emergency and cardiac ICU. After getting the chance to be a preceptor to nursing students on many occasions, I decided to pursue working as an educator and that brought me to Red River College. I think my ultimate goal of wanting to help people still holds true, but instead of currently doing this in a hospital setting working with patients and families, I now love working with nursing students by supporting them and guiding them as they complete their educational goals.

Any words of wisdom that you would like future nurses to know about nursing?

Value each learning experience. There is always something to learn from every situation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for help when needed. The great thing about nursing is there are so many opportunities and the important thing is to keep challenging yourself, keep learning, and then one day share your love and passion for nursing with others and mentor and guide those who are just starting their journey into nursing!

Post written by Jennifer Fontaine – Nursing Instructor
Questions by Corrina Zacharkiw – Nursing Instructor

Nursing Graduate Michelle Queau awarded Red River College’s Lieutenant Governor’s Medal

February 20, 2020

Every year, Red River College awards up to four Lieutenant Governor’s Medal awards to graduating students who excel in academic and technical achievement, involvement in College and/or community activities, and good character. This year, the nursing department is proud to share that January 2020 graduate, Michelle Queau was one of the selected winners for this prestigious award.

Michelle entered the nursing program in the fall of 2016 as a mature student seeking a second career as a registered nurse. Previously Michelle spent 11 years as a laboratory technician with CancerCare Manitoba and contributed to numerous academic research projects. Michelle’s past experience was a natural fit for the nursing program and she selflessly shared her past experience and skills navigating the health care world with her fellow students and faculty members. She was also frequently called upon by faculty to share her student experiences and readily sought opportunities to be involved in nursing program committees and projects.

Michelle’s outstanding accomplishments, which contributed to her successful award application include:

• Spending up to 15 hours a week mentoring, tutoring, and encouraging her fellow classmates in their academic endeavours, encouraging them to succeed in their courses and at clinical practice.
• Being invited to be a member of the Nursing Program Advisory Committee, an important committee that provides feedback to nursing program leadership about the effectiveness and lived experience of the nursing program and its relationship with the many health care facilities that support the program and hire nursing graduates.
• Participating in the Canadian Nursing Student Association Conference, winning best presentation at the Nursing Research and Innovation Day in 2019, and participating as a student panelist at the Nursing Faculty Teaching Excellence Day in 2019.
• Participating as a student representative on the Provincial Nursing Advisory Task Force (PNATF) in May 2019 and as a committee member (new graduate representative) on the Shared Health Nursing Strategy Steering Committee since Dec 2019.
• Becoming a member of a nursing faculty research team exploring nursing student retention (led by nursing faculty member Kim Mitchell). Michelle was originally hired as a research assistant on this project but upon her completion of the nursing program elected to stay a member of the research team contributing her insights to the analysis and dissemination of this work.
• Becoming a member of the Association of Registered Nurses of Manitoba (ARNM) and volunteering as an organizing committee member for the Emerging Leaders Network. The ELN is a unique space that is built for nursing students, new graduates, and early career nurses where they can connect, support, and inspire one another as they develop professionally.

Michelle’s involvement in the above activities ensures that she will be an outstanding contributor to the nursing profession as she begins her new career as a registered nurse working full time on 5A cardiology at St. Boniface Hospital. Her research involvement gives her valuable experience toward any future aspirations she may have to continue her academic pursuits. Michelle is a very deserving winner of this award. To quote from her award application, “My core values include a commitment to lifelong learning and nursing excellence, as I value research, innovation, and evidence-based practice to promote dignity and respect to all individuals. The RRC nursing education has been such a rewarding experience as I have grown personally, professionally, and gained leadership skills. I look forward to an exciting nursing career filled with possibilities.”

Post written by Kim Mitchell – Coordinator, Research, Scholarship and Quality Improvement
Photos provided by Michelle Queau – RN BN

Where Are You Now: Donna Oige

February 6, 2020

Donna Oige shares her experience and insight since graduating from the BN program in 2018:

Where are you now?

The NICU at St Boniface Hospital.

How easy was it to find a job after graduation?

It took me almost 3 months to get hired after graduation from time of application, to when I was interviewed, to when the job offer came. However, I was applying for specific areas and also during a very trying time in the health care field. Many changes were occurring and as a result hiring managers were very back logged and many others I knew also waited this long.

How did you manage the responsibility of going from student to nurse?

Asked lots of questions! I went from doing my practicum in a specialty area (Public Health) to being hired in another specialty area (The NICU). Many skills which transferred over however many new ones. Nursing school provides you with an important foundation of knowledge for entry level practice into the profession however there is so much more you learn based on the position you are in. My first few months as a nurse I still felt like a student again, as I was still asking questions and not quite confident yet in my role. I was also many months out of being in a hospital setting which came with a learning curve. I had my buddy shifts and a training course once I was hired and I continued to ask question after question until I eventually started feeling more and more like a real nurse.

How did you build your confidence as a new nurse?

Worked lots and gained lots of experience. I started in a full time position which I found to be very busy but it helped me to learn my job more quickly. I took deep breaths. I asked questions; lots of questions (how? what? why?). Admitted when I didn’t know or understand something. Tried to have thick skin. If someone gave me a criticism, took it constructively and learn from it. Read the policies. Observed the variations on how all of my coworkers do their jobs and utilized this to develop my own way of doing it. My confidence continues to build each day.

Thinking back, what were the most important lessons from school that you took into the workforce?

That the patient is a part of the health care team. Allow them to be a part of the discussion surrounding their health as they are the most important member of the team and why we do what we do.

Self reflection allows us the opportunity to grow. I disliked this in school however I’ve now come to realize when I reflect back on a situation it helps me to better myself as a nurse.

It’s true that the learning never stops.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were a student?

That it’s okay to not always know the answer. As a nurse I will continue to learn and the learning never stops.

What piece of advice would you give to current students?

– Ask questions to help you understand; to your instructors, classmates or even a mentor. Raise your hand in class, make sure you understand. When you’re new to the profession don’t be ashamed to admit you don’t know something.
– Support those around you who you can see might be struggling and help them to understand (be a mentor).
– Follow your passions; do your practicum in the area you are passionate about even if this means you may not get a job. The experiences I gained were invaluable. Also know that it’s ok if you don’t get a placement where you hoped. Remember that it’s doable to still become a nurse and apply to that area later and that’s okay.
– When you are halfway through your practicum you will be told you can start applying for jobs; do not wait to do this as the process takes a while. Apply right away.
– Take care of you! Time with friends/family, the gym, a walk or a warm bath or a glass of something bubbly. Do something for yourself once in a while as this time helps you refuel for what’s ahead.
– When you graduate; celebrate and pat yourself on the back as this nursing program was the hardest thing I have ever endured in my life. It’s a huge accomplishment and you should be proud of yourself!

Thank you Donna for sharing your experience and words of wisdom!

Dr. Patricia Gregory and Team Receive a Million Dollar Research Grant

January 30, 2020

Dr. Gregory and Team

The Nursing Department would like to congratulate nursing instructor, Dr. Patricia Gregory, on receiving a research grant totaling just under one million dollars over the course of four years! Dr. Gregory and team received the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Team Grant: TiC – Stream 1 – PHSI Solutions for Transitions in Care Gaps for their research project “Facilitating transitions and access across the pregnancy continuum of care – A Health System Intervention for Indigenous Women Living in Northern Manitoba.” The grant is for $236,111 per year for four years, totaling $944,444! It is also the first time Red River College has been awarded a CIHR grant.

Dr. Gregory, principal investigator, along with her team Susan Kobliski, Wanda Phillips-Beck, Dr. Jonathan McGavock, Dr. Nathan Nickel, Helga Bryant, Lorraine Laroque, Rhonda Campbell, Nancy Vystrcil, Dr. Sarah Ahmed, Dr. Claire Betker, Dr. Marnie Brownell, Dr. J. Cidro, Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis, Dr. Alan Katz, Dr. France Legare, Pam Noseworthy, Dr. Kellie Thiessen, and Dr. Julia Witt developed this project to determine if “a pregnancy continuum care network, led by an Indigenous health systems navigator, will improve pregnancy care and neonatal outcomes among Indigenous women and their children in Northern Manitoba”. The multi-disciplinary team of researchers and stakeholders seek to improve the health of Indigenous women and their babies in Northern regions of Manitoba through the development and evaluation of an intervention to improve health systems transitions and enhance continuity of care, the first intervention of its kind in the province.

For more information on this research project, check out the Northern Pregnancy Collective Impact Net.

Partner Logos

Post written by Meagen Chorney – Nursing Instructor
Photos from the Northern Pregnancy Collective Impact Net

Canadian Nursing Students’ Association Nursing Students’ Week

January 9, 2020

The Nursing Students’ Association at Red River College hosted a Nursing Students’ Week. It is a CNSA (Canadian Nursing Students’ Association) initiative, which was celebrated across Canada during the week of November 18th-22nd, 2019.

Our students were away from the College that week so we moved the dates to December 16th-20th, 2019. We started off by hosting a Paint Night led by Amber Van Ma’iingan from Painting on the Prairies. The event was fully covered by the Healthy Minds, Healthy College Initiative, and organized by Breanna Sawatzky Mental Health Coordinator and one of our NSA members Marlo Pereira- Edwards.

Monday was the start of our nursing positivity wall, which was proudly displayed in the library hallway for all students to add to throughout the week. Red River College nursing students also ran a donation drive and collected everyday items based on the needs of Willow Place this holiday season. Willow Place is a non-profit organization in Winnipeg that helps women and children experiencing family violence and provides them with support and emergency shelter.

With the student’s generosity, we were able to fill up 3 boxes full of various items. The donations included daily care items such as shampoo, toothbrushes, a hair dryer and hair straightener; a lot of craft and activity items such as coloring books, pencils, glue-sticks, scissors and children’s books; and lastly non-perishable food items.

Tuesday we started making holiday cards for pediatric patients; we delivered 40 cards to different units at the Children’s Hospital.

Wednesday we had a relaxing lunch of eating baked goods and making reindeer ornaments; over 40 were made!!

Thursday we hosted self care making kits, which included chocolate, mints, hair ties, playdough, pencils and pens, David’s tea sachets and other items.

Friday we invited all students and staff to wear ugly sweaters and took a group picture and later celebrated the end of the week with a DIY hot chocolate bar!

We had a great turn out to all the planned events and hope to be able to plan more fun events throughout the new year of 2020!!

Post by Kristen McGregor and Samantha Siedlik – Student Nurses

Photos by the RRC Nursing Students’ Association

The Holidays

December 19, 2019

The holidays can be a time of great joy and yes sorrow. As nurses, we are often witness to the hardships and miracles that the season can bring. I recently had the pleasure of attending an annual holiday function that highlighted the great joy our faculty find in each other’s company. It was through this time I spent with my colleagues that I was able to gather stories from our time working as nurses. All of these stories serve a purpose. Some help to highlight the spirit of the season and others help to remind us of our humanity.

Several individuals shared their stories about working as nurses in the community. Nurses working in the community are often isolated and so are their clients. One person shared that she enjoyed working on Christmas because “there was this connection, we were both on our own and I knew that I might be the only other person that client saw that day.” Another nurse shared their most memorable moment from home care where they were “asked to share a Christmas lunch with a lonely elderly couple. I arrived just before 12 and was literally probed (with 2 canes) to the already set and decorated table. This was a complete surprise and although it was against policy, I could not bring myself not to comply with these wishes. We had a wonderful (and short) time.”

The holidays can be a special time and a time of creativity. The pediatric and maternity nurses can exemplify this. One of the nurses I know well shared that one of her children was born on Christmas day. She had an exemplary experience throughout the labor and delivery, and her child was gently placed into a bright red stocking to help make the day even more special. The staff at St. Boniface always ensure that any baby born on Christmas receives a cute crocheted Santa hat. The peds units can be empty during the holidays as most of the kids that can be discharged or out on pass are away. For those kids who have to stay, the nurses try very hard to make sure they have a wonderful day. Santa comes to each child and hand delivers a gift. This same nurse remembers rolling out the TV and movie player in the hallway on Christmas Eve and having a movie night with all the kids on the unit.

Finally, one nurse shared a memorable Christmas moment where a child who had a recent transplant had to celebrate separated from their siblings by a glass door. The siblings had received a chicken pox vaccine and could not come in contact with their brother/sister, so the family made the best of things half on one side of the glass door, half on the other. This nurse remembers this very vividly stating “at one point the younger sister was kissing the glass that separated her from her sibling, this was just so touching to see. This goes to show that Christmas is what you make of it.”

This creativity can be found in care of adults as well. Some staff in a Long Term Care home had a tradition of putting out Christmas stockings, filled with small gifts for the residents. The staff would then gather around excited to see the residents open their gifts, and one of the HCAs would dress up like Santa. “It was magical.” In the ER, the staff would make up stockings and put them in all the rooms. The first patients to arrive on Christmas to those rooms would get those stockings.

Nurses who work with vulnerable clients can often appreciate the delicacy of life. The sorrow of a patient passing is magnified during special times of the year. Patients living with life limiting illness can teach us so much about finding joy in the small stuff in life. For example, in one Winnipeg hospice, the patients each received a special holiday themed decorative pillow. These pillows were placed in each room with care. The patients lit up with joy as they discovered their new pillow. Care for those in need can leave a lasting impression on us as caregivers. Many nurses have those memories that have a profound effect on us. One nurse remembered a time when she was called into work in the recovery room on Christmas. A patient who had just come from the OR to the recovery room was not expected to make it. She stated, “I spent the day consoling the family, I will never forget this moment.” Another colleague shared their story of a “Christmas miracle” from the SICU. This patient was the only patient on the 10 bed unit. The patient was greatly impacted by a CVA but over the course of the day made a huge recovery.

I would like to thank everyone for sharing their holiday memories. It is my hope that you all take time to enjoy the finer things in life. Hold dear to those that you love and enjoy the small stuff too.

Corrina Zacharkiw RN MN and the Public Relations Committee

Photo from

Where Are You Now: Emma MacLennan

December 12, 2019

Emma MacLennan shares her experience and insight since graduating from the BN program in 2018:

Where are you now?

After completing my senior practicum at the NICU at Health Sciences Centre, I am currently still there working my dream job!

How easy was it to find a job after graduation?

I was very fortunate to be able to accept a position during my senior practicum. I started applying for jobs as they came up during practicum. I started in a full time term position and have since then been able to secure a full time permanent position.

How did you manage the responsibility of going from student to nurse?

I think I had a pretty smooth transition from student nurse to nurse. Of course it was a little bit intimidating your first shift on your own but you come to realize very quickly that there are many nurses around to support you. I believe it’s still important to ask questions and take advantage of any learning opportunities. Your learning doesn’t stop after you transition from the student role; for me it really had just begun and I learn new things almost every shift!

How did you build your confidence as a new nurse?

As I became more familiar with the unit and the babies on the unit I became more comfortable with the care I was providing and the conditions I was seeing which allowed me to become more confident in my assessments and advocating for my patients. I also found building relationships with other nurses, RTs, OTs, doctors and other members of the health care team helped gain other perspectives which helped me build my knowledge base and look at things from different perspectives. Having a good understanding of why you are doing something and the rationales for it really helps you feel more confident in the care you are providing!

Thinking back, what were the most important lessons from school that you took into the workforce?

I think for me the most important skills were organization, communication and a willingness to learn. Obviously your fundamental knowledge is important but in my experience I was given so much education upon starting on my unit that I didn’t feel I was stressed out or worried about not remembering things I learnt at school. I also don’t think I would have learned as much as I have without having a willingness to learn; you really get out what you put in. I have fully taken advantage of seeking learning opportunities on my unit and seeking out information and communicating with those around me what I feel comfortable with and what I would like more experience with.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were a student?

It’s ok not to know everything! In fact no one expects you to know everything. It’s important to be able to recognize what you don’t know or aren’t comfortable with and seek out help from those around you.

What piece of advice would you give to current students?

Don’t forget to take time for yourself and do the things you enjoy! Nursing is one part of your life; don’t neglect other aspects of your life that are important to you.

Thank you Emma for sharing your experience and words of wisdom!

Christmas Hamper

December 5, 2019

Every year, the Nursing Department shows their holiday cheer by sponsoring a Christmas Hamper for a RRC student and their family. Through donations of food and presents, the department helps to make the holiday season a little merrier for a family in need.

Thank you to the Nursing Department for all your donations for our RRC Student Association Christmas Hamper this year!

Post written by Meagen Chorney – Nursing Instructor

Photo taken from

Tales of Remembrance

November 28, 2019

The act of remembrance as defined by Merriam-Webster is “the state of bearing in mind, an act of recalling to mind, a memory of a person, thing, or event, something that serves to keep in or bring to mind, a greeting or gift recalling or expressing friendship or affection.” It is through these acts of remembrance that nurses can take time to reflect upon where they came from. This month’s blog will focus on Lilian Mugweni’s remembrance of her first day as a nurse on a busy unit at the Women’s Health Centre within HSC. Lilian graduated from the University of Manitoba with her BN in 1999 and completed her Master’s degree in Nursing in 2009.

When asked about her first day as a nurse, the first thing that came to Lilian’s mind was “I was so nervous. I think my biggest fear was being asked questions by the patients and not knowing the answers.” I hardly slept the night before. “I had just finished my senior practicum on the same unit so I knew the unit, the staff and some of the patients. I think this helped because when I started my shift my preceptor was there.” Lilian went on to share that although she was familiar with the unit, she did not feel confident in her own abilities to handle the more difficult nursing responsibilities. She stated that she felt overwhelmed and tired. Having her preceptor there for support was invaluable. The shift went well because of this. Finding that support person early on is so important. All the nursing and support staff were very supportive from that day onward on WRS5.

Another lesson Lilian would like to impart about her first day experience is that she wishes that she had taken some time off between practicum and starting her full-time nursing position. She stated, “I needed to work, I had bills to pay. It was exciting to start my career. I just wish that I had taken a week off to get some rest and take some time to reflect about what I learned during practicum.”

As nurses, we work so hard to make sure we are providing the best possible care. As new graduates, there is a sense of urgency to get things started. Even though one might be familiar with the unit where one is hired does not guarantee nerves of steel. Remember that it is normal to feel some kind of nervousness and that finding our way has its ups and downs. In the end, nurses are all striving for the same thing: safe competent care.

Post written by: Corrina Zacharkiw RN MN

Interview: Lilian Mugweni RN MN

Service-Learning as a Pedagogical Tool

November 21, 2019

Taking the learning out of the classroom and out of our control is scary, but I can tell you from experience that it is worth it.

Over the past two years, I integrated the College’s Step Out of Your Box (SOYB) program into my Gender Studies for Health Professionals course for the Nursing department. SOYB helps students explore a dimension of diversity different from their own. The program uses service-learning as a pedagogical tool, taking students out of the classroom and into the real world. Students complete 7 hours of volunteer time at a community organization of their choice, coordinate with the organization to plan a leave-behind project, and then write a reflection on their experience. What better way to connect students with course material than to have them experience it first-hand, give something back, and reflect on it all? As a bonus, students can submit their reflections to be eligible for four $500 awards.

Although the prospect of including service-learning into my course was unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating, implementation was surprisingly easy. I worked with the RRC mentorship coordinator to implement the program as an alternate assignment to a paper within the constraints of a 12-week term. We also adapted SOYB to the objectives of the course by stipulating that the dimension of diversity had to connect with gender and including a couple nursing-specific reflection questions. I then created an assignment guideline and a rubric to evaluate the program requirements and depth of reflection. The mentorship coordinator joined my class on day 1 to introduce SOYB, at which point I turned control of the learning experience over to the students, under her guidance. Implementing SOYB did not add to my workload. With the initial materials in place, it allowed me to focus on other course objectives while the students focused on developing their power skills and cultural competence.

With its self-directed nature, service-learning is shown to increase self-efficacy and responsibility as well as elevate student success. Students were not only learning about the communities they were volunteering with; they were also learning about themselves. What better way for a student to face their fears in an ever-changing world? What better way for students to check their own privilege? As an instructor, I can give my students readings, lectures, and discussions. With the help of SOYB, I can also give my students that ‘a-ha’ moment when theory comes to life. As one student put it, “I finished this experience not learning what I wanted but learning what I needed.”

The College-wide learning outcomes emphasize that community engagement is crucial to the learning process, and students must be able to collaborate and work in a growingly diverse country. Learning about diversity can often be difficult, though. The theoretical can stereotype and generalize. Lectures, class discussions, and guest speakers are incredibly useful, but often being surrounded by or exposed to diversity does not mean that we internalize it or appreciate it. Through SOYB, students are meeting individuals different from themselves, face to face, in their environment. They are talking to and learning from individuals that they might never have otherwise interacted with. They get to humanize someone even if they don’t understand or agree with them. Service-learning has been shown to increase empathy and cultural competence. Students can collaborate with community organizations toward social inclusion, social justice, and building a better future, while also meeting the College values of learning, respect, inclusiveness, integrity, and service to community.

The first term that I offered SOYB as an alternate assignment, most of the students chose it. Since then, every single student has chosen service-learning over writing a paper. From the growing popularity of the program and the comments in their reflections, students see the value of this experience. For me, it has been a shift in my perspective of my role as an instructor. I had to let go of control over what and how exactly a student will learn.

As instructors, we’re constantly looking for new and innovative ways to get our content across to students. SOYB won’t replace course content, but it will reinforce it. It is experientially robust and employer relevant. Our students are diverse and their future employers, coworkers, and clients are diverse. Whether as an alternate assignment or a small portion of work placement focused on social responsibility, the Step Out of Your Box program is a rewarding addition to any course.


To find out how to integrate SOYB into your course, contact the mentorship coordinator, Vera Godavari, at or visit

For more on the experience of using SOYB as an alternate course assignment, contact Meagen Chorney at


Interested in taking part in the Step Out of Your Box program?

It’s open to all students even if you’re not in a course integrating it. Contact Vera at or visit to sign up today.

Post written by Meagen Chorney – Nursing Instructor
and Vera Godavari – Mentorship Coordinator