Profile of a Travelling Nurse: Whitehorse

It took me less than 24 hours to fall irreversibly in love with the Yukon.

Like most who grew up in Southern Ontario, I never gave Canada’s territories much thought besides having to memorize the capital cities for elementary school geography tests.  That is, until I found myself boarding a plane heading for Whitehorse, Yukon in April of 2016.

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Plane ride to the Yukon

Contrary to what I pictured as a child, Canada’s North consists of more than just snow and polar bears. It took me less than 24 hours to fall irreversibly in love with the Yukon.

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Sandra Milliken with the Yukon sign

When I was growing up, my family had always prioritized travel within Canada, primarily within the Maritime provinces. I knew early on in nursing school that I wanted to use my degree as a means to explore our huge, beautiful country, which I had only seen a small fraction of. With the West coast in mind and the mountains calling my name, I applied to a travel nursing agency after gaining some experience in Kingston.

After speaking to a recruiter for some time, I was excited and surprised to learn that my pediatrics experience meant that a contract was available in Whitehorse, which I had never considered as an option. I negotiated my contract, handed over the money for the hefty licencing fee, and two short months later, I was on a plane.

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Whitehorse General Hospital

Whitehorse General Hospital is a smaller hospital than I was used to, but I easily adjusted with the support of the welcoming staff on the medical/pediatrics unit. Since I still was a fairly new nurse, I was happy to be working in a hospital setting with experienced co workers and doctors onsite. I quickly learned that I had been spoiled at my larger hospital, with porters who transported my patients to have X-rays and CT scans, and Patient Care Assistants, to help with showering, dressing, feeding, and caring for my patients. Those responsibilities, and many others that can be delegated in a larger hospital, are absorbed primarily by nursing staff in a smaller centre. It meant that I needed to plan out my day and prioritize my care even more carefully than at home.

The Yukon often needs to employ nurses from out of province for specialty areas, such as ER, ICU, Labour & Delivery, and Pediatrics, due to its remoteness and small local population. It is difficult for Whitehorse staff to gain and maintain experience as a nurse in specialty areas at a hospital where the “pediatrics” unit, may only admit one child every two months! Because I had pediatrics experience at a larger centre, Whitehorse was happy to have me for multiple contracts.

I had a bit of a wake up call upon my arrival though. As a young nurse early in my career, I was used to being a junior staff member, and always had more experienced staff to turn to. In Whitehorse, I was suddenly the ONLY pediatrics nurse each shift, and also working with family medicine doctors, not pediatrics specialists. On one of my first contracts, I had a sick baby who needed a nasogastric tube, which would help keep her fed and hydrated while she was too sick to breastfeed. Normally, this is routinely done, but because I was working with a doctor who was not a pediatrics specialist, I had to use my knowledge and experience to advocate for what I thought was best for my patient. Thankfully, when I recommended this plan to the doctor, she agreed. She then told me to get the nurse who had the most experience inserting nasogastric tubes… Which of course, was me! What a strange feeling for a nurse only two years into her career!

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On all of my contracts, I have worked with knowledgeable and experienced nurses who strongly advocate for their patients. In smaller northern hospitals, the medical team relies much more heavily on the nurses’ assessment and judgement to direct patient care, so it is crucial they continue to build and maintain their knowledge and skills. Nurses Appreciation Week is this week, so hopefully all the amazing nurses I’ve had the pleasure of working with all over Canada get the huge thanks they deserve!

Edited Sandra

Sandra Milliken graduated from Queen’s University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2014.  She has worked as a travel nurse in northern Canada for 3 years.  Between her contracts, she resides in Kingston, ON, where she works as a resource pool nurse on pediatrics, NICU, and maternity units, and as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner on the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence team at Kingston General Hospital.

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