These days, she laughingly admits she “didn’t know what she was getting into” when she signed up for Red River College’s Licensed Practical Nursing program in 1985.
But thanks to the training she received here — and the decades of industry experience she’s gathered since — alumna Caroline Chartrand is now a leading force in the ongoing effort to provide Aboriginal communities with access to quality health care.
A member of the Pine Creek First Nation, Chartrand graduated from the College’s LPN program in 1986, and earned her Registered Nursing (RN) diploma from RRC in 1988. She now works as Executive Director of the Diabetes Integration Project, a mobile screening and treatment program administered by health professionals throughout the province.
The goal of the project is to improve the health of First Nation individuals, families and communities, through actions aimed at reducing the prevalence of diabetes, and complications resulting from the disease.
Chartrand’s is an uphill battle, given the high incidence of diabetes among Aboriginal populations, and the scarcity of health care workers available to administer care in northern or remote communities. But having worked as a community health nurse in Pine Creek, and later as Director of Nursing for the West Region Tribal Council, she’s become adept at liaising with First Nation organizations and health care professionals in order to improve conditions for Aboriginals.
“What I find most challenging is the complexity of the care that’s required for chronic diseases that are epidemic in our communities,” says Chartrand, who after graduating from RRC went on to earn her baccalaureate degree in Nursing from the University of Manitoba in 1994.
“We’re not just dealing with poverty, but also with the social determinants of health — not having basic food and water, all those kind of issues.”
Chartrand’s RRC training involved a cultural component, since she earned her diplomas through the College’s ACCESS program. She says the curriculum provided her with the knowledge and skills she’d require in the workforce, while the support from instructors and mentors helped smooth the transition.
“I remember a lot of my Nursing instructors, and how they helped me and shaped me into the person I became,” says Chartrand, who is also President of the Aboriginal Nurses Manitoba (ANM) Inc.
“Right after graduation, I went into nursing part-time. I found it a little hard at first, being a new graduate, but it didn’t take long to feel comfortable with all of my new skills, and the knowledge that I’d gained through the Nursing school.”
Chartrand’s position with the Diabetes Integration Project was a result of her involvement with the Manitoba First Nations Diabetes Committee, for which she served as co-chair while the project was in its infancy. With help from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and a number of other partner committees, the first phase of the project was launched in 2008.
“I love working with my own people,” says Chartrand, who in 2007 won the Excellence in Professional Nursing Award from the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba. “Sharing the same cultural background and belief system helps us when we’re providing service to our people.”
Throughout her career, Chartrand has benefited from meetings with health care leaders from years past, and has been mentored by exceptional instructors, professors and practitioners. She is a passionate advocate for improvements to the health status of First Nation residents, and hopes to see many more follow in her footsteps in the years to come.
“Aboriginal nurses are in high demand,” she points out. “I would like to see a lot more Aboriginal students go into nursing, so that we can continue to improve conditions for our people.”