Health Sciences

Health Sciences

Faculty Throwback

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

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

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

Is it a Full Moon?

October 31, 2019

The focus of this blog is in line with Halloween. I went around asking some of my colleagues about anything spooky they might have encountered as a nurse. As always, there were many comments about the “full moon.” Most nurses I know truly believe that a full moon can influence the behaviors of the patients they care for. Many of the nurses I spoke to stated that the full moon effect was involved in ER visits and random wanderings of their patients. Not sure if the next couple of stories are connected to the full moon.

One story an instructor told me that sent shivers down my spine involves the maternity unit at St. Boniface. The unit used to be a children’s unit and patients on the unit have reported seeing a small child wandering in and out of their rooms all night. This small child has only ever been seen by the patients on the unit.

Another story that I know of involves Riverview Health Centre where mysterious doctors orders appear in the charts at night. These orders are signed by the Head Doctor who had died many years past. And the museum in the Princess Elizabeth is often found with the lights turning on and off at night by the security staff.

Health Science Centre is also not immune to strange sightings. A nurse shared that she once saw a large man wearing full cowboy regalia washing his hands outside an isolation room. This man tipped his cowboy hat at the nurse and went into the room. The nurse looked down and the man was floating. The room was unoccupied. This nurse asked a more senior nurse she was working with about the appearance of the man. The senior nurse replied “Oh, that sounds exactly like Mr. ____. He passed away in that room several months ago.”

Other stories shared involve sightings of Sasquatches while driving on isolated highways. One person even shared that she personally saw a sasquatch when she was a small child. Stating that she “looked outside and saw a very large hairy man looking into the cottage. Then she screamed and her parents could not console her.”

Something to ponder as we approach Halloween. If you happen to have your own encounter, try to remember to check if it was a full moon.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Post written by Corrina Zacharkiw – Nursing instructor

Contributions from various Nursing faculty

My Pinning Ceremony

September 26, 2019

Earlier this month, the Nursing Department celebrated our most recent graduates at the 2019 Pinning Ceremony.

Nursing instructor and chair of the Pinning Ceremony Committee, Bernie Mandrick, reflects back on her memories of her own Pinning Ceremony:

When did you graduate from nursing and from which program?

I graduated from the Baccalaureate program at the University of Manitoba in 1986 (If you are doing the math that was 33 years ago yikes!)

What did receiving your pin mean to you?

Receiving my pin meant the culmination of a lot of hard work and the celebration of the friendships and learning our class did.

What parts of the Pinning Ceremony do you best remember?

I remember being so excited to see my peers. We had been separated by our choices of Senior Practice sites and catching up with them before the start of the ceremony was fabulous. We wore blue graduation robes. I wore dove grey shoes (my favorite shoes of all time!) and carried 4 roses (one for each year of the program) in the processional. I also remember that we had organized a graduate’s choir and we sang a song as part of the ceremony. I clearly recall the pride I had when Dr. Larsen the Dean of Nursing pinned the pin to my gown. Sharing that moment with my family was profound and I truly felt I had made it!

Do you feel you own Pinning has an impact on your involvement with our program’s Pinning Ceremony. How?

I loved the tradition behind the Pinning Ceremony; it was intimate and so focused on the graduates as the nurse. I felt it was my “rite of passage”. Pinning is much more specific to nursing. It is a smaller celebration (I’m talking number of graduates here) than convocation and every person on the stage knew our names and had a relationship with us. I felt the support and pride our faculty had in us. My Pinning Ceremony was important to me; the memories remain with me (even 33 years later) and I want those same memories for my students. It was a natural fit for me to be involved in planning the Pinning Ceremony for the BN graduates from Red River.

Any words of wisdom that you would like future nurses to know about nursing traditions such as the Pinning Ceremony?

You might have just begun your nursing journey in the BN program and maybe it feels like a daunting task right now; however, it will come to an end. Pinning is a time to celebrate the conclusion of this stage of your nursing journey. At Pinning you can reconnect with your cohort before you all begin working shifts, weekends, holidays etc… Pinning is also a celebration for those who have supported you. It is a time for family and friends to show you their pride. It is an opportunity for your support people to meet your instructors (some of whom you spent more time with than your family during the program!). Pins represent your school of nursing and symbols on the Red River College Pin were thoughtfully chosen and designed by previous graduates who had similar experiences to yours in the BN program here. Receiving your pin is your official welcome into the profession. Your faculty is always thrilled to share this day with you. If you want to know more about the RRC pin or the traditions of the RRC Pinning Ceremony, don’t hesitate to email me!

Post written by Bernie Mandrick – Nursing Instructor / Chair – Pinning Ceremony Committee
Questions created by Corrina Zacharkiw – Nursing Instructor

Welcome to Nursing

August 29, 2019

When you prepare to venture into the world of nursing, it is not uncommon to feel mixed emotions. As you begin this new adventure, it is important to realize that you are not alone. Each of us seasoned nurses who consider ourselves lucky to be a part of the process of your nursing education would like you to know that we all started somewhere. It is for that reason that I felt compelled to share my first day story.

As a newly graduated nurse in 1996, I was pleased to accept a new position on the Bone Marrow Transplant department at HSC. I arrived for my first independent shift as a nurse after receiving two weeks of intensive orientation. Nervous did not even begin to describe how I felt. I came onto the unit about 45 minutes early, wrote out my assignment, started to plan out my day, and saw that I had a student nurse assigned to one of my patients. When we met, she recognized me from the hallways of nursing school. The day only seemed to go downhill from there. The four patients assigned to me were all acutely ill. One was having seizures and required MRIs (the one with a student luckily, because she knew the patient better than I did), one needed to go for a lung biopsy (I needed to prep her for this, and I did not know where to begin). Both of these patients needed to leave the unit, and this required a lot of planning because they were neutropenic. Another needed platelets, and the last needed 2 units of blood. They all had central lines, each with about 3 IV lines with hourly ins and outs and multiple IV medications due each hour. By the end of the 12 hour shift, I was completely drained. I remember crying when I got home and thinking how am I going to do this? I went back the next day and it got better, not perfect but better.

This first day taught me a lot. It taught me to trust my colleagues, to ask for help, and to admit when I did not know something. I learned to listen to everyone. The student came to me about her assessment findings. The patients’ wife shared that she had been noticing the seizure activity for a while, but it had been dismissed so she thought it wasn’t important. It’s funny that I still remember that day with such clarity. I understood that I was a novice still learning, and needed to give myself a break. The key I believe to my continued success was resilience, a wonderful support network, and unwillingness to give up. That is what I want to say to you all. That I believe in you. I am still here for you because I understand to this day what it’s like to feel lost and overwhelmed. I also understand the rewards of sticking it out and living to tell my tale.

Post written by Corrina Zacharkiw RN MN