Today’s Interviewee: Paula Doucet
Paula Doucet is a proud RN of 26 years and is currently the President of the New Brunswick Nurses Union. Nineteen of her nursing years was at the bedside in Bathurst as a palliative care nurse, medical, then 13 years as an ER nurse. She has involved herself with union business from the beginning of her nursing career. Paula’s involvement in labour comes naturally as her father, Blair Doucet, was the NB Federation of Labour President for many years. She lives in Bathurst with her partner of 5 years and their three-year-old Golden Retriever, Harley. In the summer months, they are seasonal campers at a local campground in Bathurst.
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Q. Can you tell us about yourself and where you grew up?
A. I was born and grew up in Bathurst, NB. I am the only child of Blair (deceased) and Susan Doucet. Both my parents came from large families, so I grew up around many cousins, who I am still very close to today. I spent many summers at the ballfield with my Dad, and I played competitive softball and volleyball growing up. I was on my high school’s student council and was one of the founders of the school spirit committee at the Bathurst High School. When I was 19 I moved to Kitchener, ON, but after only 6 short months and 2 factory jobs later, I came home to Bathurst. It took me a few years of growing up before I enrolled in nursing school, but I was always certain that I would be a RN some day.
Q. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A. Spare time seems to be at a premium these last few years. But, in the summer months, my partner and I are seasonal campers at a lovely family-owned campground in Bathurst, so we spend as much time from May to October there. Travel had always been a hobby of mine, and I took every chance I could to see the world. Australia, Spain, USA, Mexico, Canada, and of course, the Caribbean. There is always so much to see, do and learn from travel to another place. I am a huge hockey fan, and never miss the IIHF World Juniors every year. I have also been to many NHL games in Boston, Montreal, and Ottawa. Likewise, I am a Bruins fan, but, I do have a family member that now plays for the NY Islanders, so I do cheer for him and his team now. I do like to take advantage of spending time with my partner, Alex, our Golden Retriever, Harley, and our circle of close friends regularly.
Q. Your father founded the Blair Doucet Youth Summer Camp, which is named in his memory. The camp gives children the opportunity to learn about the history of the labour movement, their rights as workers and labour’s role in the broader society. Can you tell us a bit about this opportunity for children in our province and your father’s vision for the longevity of this project?
A. When my father was involved with the NB Federation of Labour and the Steelworkers at Brunswick Mines in Bathurst, he always had a passion for education, learning and fun. He pitched the idea of this 1-weeklong camp to the executive council of the Fed as an opportunity to reach out to the youth in our communities to really grasp what unions, democracy, health and safety and their rights mean. It is an opportunity for children that would potentially not otherwise have their paths cross in life, to form bonds and friendships that have lasted well into their adulthood. The first camp was held in 1999, and except for the Pandemic years, has run every first week of August since. It was known as the NB Federation of Labour Youth Summer Camp. It was in 2008, just months before my dad lost his battle with Cancer, that the NBFL re-named the camp the Blair Doucet Youth Summer Camp. My father chaperoned the first few years of the camp, and he, along with a few other parents, made sure the youth had a great experience, and would want to come back year after year. Since 2010, I have had the privilege of chaperoning and leading this camp as well. We have grown the camp from 12 participants to the largest group of 31 youths in 2017. It is a combination of education in the mornings, and fun activities in the afternoons, with some union activities in the evenings. It is something that still amazes me to this day; it’s hard to describe how these youths form such strong bonds in such a short period of time. I have remained in touch with all the campers over the years since 2010. My father would be very proud and happy to know his vision continues to this day.
Q. Nursing Professionals in New Brunswick have long struggled through their daily work schedules due to shortages of Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses in the workforce. Indeed, all healthcare workers, (PCA’s, PSW’s, MD’s, etc) to one degree or another, have experienced similar issues. However, in the last two years, during this unprecedented pandemic, nurses have had to work from day to day never knowing if their shift would be running at half staff or worse. They would have to worry if they had enough of the proper supplies and whether they would go home at the end of the day feeling as if they had not done enough for their patients. They have also had to deal with physical danger (COVID-19) and the emotional stress of a heavy workload and the fear of bringing home a dangerous virus to their families. What can we, all New Brunswickers, do or say to give tribute to the professionals who have kept our citizens alive and safe under these extreme conditions?
A. I think the greatest tribute a New Brunswicker can give today is the acknowledgement and respect for what nurses and other healthcare workers have done to keep us safe. We, too, are people with families and lives outside the walls of the hospital, nursing home or public health office. Hearing that “this is our job”, is so demoralizing and disrespectful. Our career provides us with the privilege to put our skills, knowledge, education and expertise to good use to keep our patients/communities/province as safe as possible, but it takes participation of all involved to help us. Thank you and kindness go a long way.
Q. When did you first become interested in pursuing a nursing career?
A. My mom has a drawing from when I was in Mrs. Power’s grade 1 class where we were asked to draw what we want to be when we grow up; low and behold, I drew a nurse.
Q. As you watched your father working for many years as President of the Federation of Labour, what was it about his job that made you think that collective bargaining and unions were important, particularly in the nursing field?
A. Like my dad, I believe in being a voice for those who may not feel they have one. I see that injustice in society is our biggest weakness. Fairness, equality, safety, and respect have always been the cornerstones of every debate my father taught me was essential. I try to do that today, in the privileged role I have representing LPN’s, RN’, NP’s and defending our precious public healthcare system. It’s not something that is easy to do because many emotions are usually at play when debating with employers, policymakers, and governments. I have learned over the years to not make any debate personal, but rather what is the collective good of the outcome, that is always my driving force.
Q. What are the most significant changes in the New Brunswick Nurses Union since you have been President?
A. Well, as of Oct.8, 2021 we now represent LPNs, that’s a massive shift for a union that for 45+ years only represented RN’s. Internally, I would say building the team within our office and the board of directors to be more cohesive and more vested in the work that we do. Externally, the communication to members has increased and the strengthening of our voice within the house of labour.
Q. How are the duties and responsibilities of a Registered Nurse defined?
A. RN’s and NP’s have Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics that we have to follow, created by our licensing bodies. Within the parameters of education, training and responsibilities, classifications of the nurse are created. As a RN, we put our education to practice by educating, caring, assessing, diagnosing, collaborating, delegating, and carrying out treatments of those within our care. It is difficult to truly capture all that a RN is responsible for and the duties they carry out; as a RN, we are always assessing and internally formulating a care plan for every person that we encounter.
Q. How are the duties and responsibilities of a Licensed Practical Nurse defined?
A. Very similar to the RN, the LPNs have Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics to follow as well. I am learning more about the LPNs every day. Apart from having worked alongside many fabulous LPNs throughout my career at the bedside, I am learning how their scope of practice has continued to expand and evolve over the years according to their educational learning. Just as the RN, the LPN plays a critical role on the care team for any patient/client/resident accessing care in the health care system.
Q. What are the major changes in a nursing career that you have seen since you started?
A. When I started my career in 1996, we had time to spend with our patients to talk to them, do some education, provide emotional support, and truthfully work on care plans that supported them. When I left the ER in 2016 to take this role, I had seen the shift over the years of less staff, higher acuity of care, and little to no ability to make time for education or emotional support to those that need it most. There has also been a shift away from preventative healthcare that would have long-term positive outcomes for generations. Nurses’ scope of practice has evolved and expanded; however, we are still having a hard time to move to a mindset of a more supervisory role and delegate tasks to other members of the healthcare team. As more medically delegated functions are taken on, we have not given anything up, therefore always creating the feeling of never having the time to do it all, properly.
Q. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about what nurses do according to the public?
A. I honestly don’t think that the general public understand the depth and breadth of knowledge a nurse has. We are always 3 steps ahead in everything we do, and always thinking of the outcome and how do we get there. The amount of collaboration, with a multi-disciplinary team, that goes into the care of a patient, is not fully seen nor understood by the public. Furthermore, the amount of responsibility that one nurse has is not well understood.
Q. What role can the local hospital authorities play in improving the working lives of nurses in this province?
A. There needs to be a culture shift in many of the facilities across NB. The debate of having 2 Regional Health Authorities and making everything the same regardless of location is something I believe needs to be addressed. The autonomy of the facilities has been removed, and that therefore makes things very impersonal and removed from those on the frontlines. This erosion started to take place when NB shifted from 8 Health Zones, to 2 RHA’s – Horizon and Vitalite. Having said this, I think having more “on the ground” leaders engaging with the staff will make that cultural difference. It’s a giant shift, but one that I have been raising with officials over the last few years, and I have to believe that the shift is slowly starting to take place with new leaders in the RHA’s.
Q. In your opinion, what do you think creates a safe and respectful working environment for all healthcare staff?
A. Making safety a priority for all workers and facilities is where it needs to start. When we have the appropriate safety and security measures in place, that will make a difference in the stress level. Moreover, engaging with staff in meaningful discussions for change is key for respect. When a person’s opinions are truly valued and acknowledged, it gives them the feeling of belonging, ownership and respect.
Q. What would you say to a person who is reconsidering nursing as a profession after enduring challenges such as the pandemic, staffing shortages, lack of resources and workplace violence and bullying?
A. Nursing is still, in my opinion, a wonderful career. The possibilities are endless. The skillset that a nurse has and acquires can be applied to many situations in life, and it’s not only in a hospital, nursing home or clinic that you will find a nurse. Nurses bring a unique outlook on many things, solving problems, advocacy, leadership, education, research, and inspiration are only a few things I see that nurses and nursing has to offer. Giving up on a career that has so much to offer, despite the turbulent times, is not the answer; I believe we need to recognize our limitations and to not feel guilty for standing up for ourselves.
Q. How important is supporting one’s mental health in the nursing profession?
A. It should absolutely be a priority for everyone involved to be supportive of mental health for all healthcare workers. Nursing is a profession that, unlike others, you have the privilege to witness and be very much part of the best, worst and most vulnerable times in strangers’ lives. When you are at work, you are surrounded by your co-workers that most likely have the same outlook and feelings as you do, it’s your support system. But when you leave work and re-integrate to your personal life, you compartmentalize the many traumas, sad situations, and other events you have been a witness to; this takes an emotional toll on a person over time, and knowing there is support available is key, but also accessing that support has to be a priority as well.
Q. There was a documentary series made in early 2020 about a New York City hospital called Lenox Hill. The series covered the stories of doctors and nurses in this relatively small NYC hospital. On the last episode of the series, there were scenes of chaos, as the beginning of an overwhelming amount of emergent cases started to arrive at the hospital. It was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was inspirational to watch the hospital staff adjust to the new conditions. What can you tell us about the response from New Brunswick nurses?
A. Even though we were already working short across the entire province, in every sector, Nurses stepped up and, in numerous instances, jumped into the chaos of it all to try to help. That is what Nurses do. We are a personality type that puts others before ourselves, and this was and continues to be very evident across NB facilities. However, we are not machines, and we are breaking down, physically and emotionally, everyone deserves a reprieve from the constant chaos. NB Nurses continue to do their very best, but they are tired, they are exhausted, and they do need a break.
Q. If you could speak directly to all the nurses and healthcare workers in the province, what would you say to them about what the future holds for their career? How will the pandemic affect their lives long-term? Will they be able to recover?
A. I wish I had a crystal ball and could see into the future, I don’t. What I do have is immense hope, optimism, and drive to find ways to do better, be better and make a positive difference. Early on in my career, I would say that I wouldn’t let 1 bad shift define my career because being a RN brings so many more rewards than it does pitfalls. That saying has become more difficult to say these last few years because of the dire shortage, the pandemic, and the lack of support for healthcare by policymakers, government, and employers. I have recently said that people must humanize our healthcare system; the system that is falling apart and crumbling is not a machine, it is a network of human beings that are doing their very best under the circumstances we are faced with. However, many healthcare workers feel like they are treated like a machine, without emotion, without a voice and without ideas. However, I argue the very opposite. The frontline staff of this pandemic and delivery of healthcare services need to be listened too, acknowledged, and respected for what they see and do every day. I am hopeful that there is a shift of doing this, however, it takes time to change the culture and way of doing things in any industry and healthcare is no different. It is not about a perception of losing control, when in fact it’s about creating partnership, trust, and strength to do better, and be better. I am hopeful and optimistic we will recover; it is the number we may lose along the way to recovery that saddens me.
I will conclude with a saying that was something my Dad lived by: Never, never, never give up! And, the love of friends, companionship of a dog and the innocence of children keep us going. Thank you for asking some hard questions that I needed to really reflect on and have an opportunity to make a bad situation more hopeful.
Q. Thank you for answering these questions.
A. You are welcome thank you for having me.
Co-editors: Allan MacPhee and Shalyn Arseneau
Transcription and editing services provided by Shalyn Arseneau
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