Yvette Francis is a part-time Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) in the palliative care unit at Baycrest Hospital. A model student in the early days of her career, she was fiercely determined to make nursing her life.
“When the opportunity came to get into nursing, that became my only priority. I went to school, came home, did my homework, woke up at 4am, and was out the door by 5-6am every day. I wanted to pass my course so badly, and it was an absolute joy when I did because I could finally do the one thing I’ve always wanted to do.”
Patient care is extremely important to Yvette beyond just treatment, and she talks about how her experiences have motivated her to become the best person possible for her patients:
“To be a nurse is to be kind, caring, giving, helping, and most of all, human. All these traits are essential for the job, whether you’re helping somebody regain their health, giving them respect during their dying hours, or telling them that it isn’t over. I used to think that it’s over, but I’ve seen so many miracles on my floor, to the point where my views changed.”
“I also like to ask the patients everything about them; who took care of them, who paid attention to them, and who’s at home with them. This is the most attention that they get, so they depend on you. If they find somebody is taking care of them, they aren’t as anxious and don’t feel so vulnerable.”
Vulnerability isn’t something Yvette feels when it comes to her union, SEIU Healthcare. She’s inspired by its staff and members to strengthen her own voice and become more politically active.
“I love SEIU Healthcare and have been a part of it for a long time. Back in 1981-2, when the union was in the Victoria Park – Eglington Area, I wanted to know what was going on as I didn’t have enough knowledge in the labour movement. The people we got are amazing; they have a vision and a strong presence. I’m learning a few things from them, to express what I need to and get my point across. SEIU Healthcare is about opening up and being approachable, and we’ve got wonderful people for the job.”
Jocelyn Borras has been a registered practical nurse (RPN) since 2010 at the Cooksville Care Centre in Mississauga. She values patience and compassion in her job, which help her create a positive environment for her residents.
“It’s not just about treating your residents and giving them medication. Love and care are important as well. I have 40 residents in my care, and even when I’m rushing to see them all, I still try to spend some time talking with and listening to each of them. They’ve become a part of my life, not just my job, and I don’t like to ever see them upset. It’s free to smile, and so I’m always smiling at work.”
She did not initially set out to become a nurse, but after much encouragement from her mother, she discovered her passion for the field. Along the way, she also found the motivation to become a leader in her workplace through SEIU Healthcare.
“I’m really happy right now with SEIU Healthcare. I’m honoured to help fight for our rights and to educate other members who might not know what’s going on. I encourage them to become more active, because the union is ours.”
Leadership is an essential part of collective action, and Jocelyn explains how becoming a union steward allows her to work closely with other members, instead of a traditional workplace setting.
“What separates leaders from bosses is their ability to listen to and communicate with others on the same level, building trust between them. Members have the chance to make suggestions for better working conditions, and we as stewards support them every step of the way while also informing them of their rights.”
It also helped her realise she can do more as an activist, not just as an RPN, and she urges other members to act as well:
“In being part of SEIU Healthcare, I gained a lot of experience and especially the confidence to be able to talk to managers about labour issues. When I became a steward, I promised myself to set a good example for other members. It’s hard to convince people to become more involved in a union but teaching them to look for warning signs in the workplace and how to deal with stressful situations can make a big difference. They need to know they’re not alone and shouldn’t be afraid to fight.”
Holly Hilliard is a registered practical nurse (RPN) at Headwaters Health Care Centre and is currently working towards her BScN in Registered Nursing at Nipissing University. She is passionate about giving back to her community and embraces constant transitions in her job.
“I always felt like it’s part of my personality to help people - it’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m also not someone who is able to sit still, so to me it makes sense being in a field where everything is always changing.”
Change doesn’t stop at nursing itself, however. Holly wishes for her patients to take charge of their own lives as well.
“When I’m nursing, I’m giving my patients something they need and also encouraging them to make changes because they need it, not because I’m personally benefitting from doing so.”
As an SEIU Healthcare member, Holly knows the importance of getting involved in her union and talks about how she contributes to political action:
“I volunteer as a union steward at my hospital, and I’m proud to be part of a very active union like SEIU Healthcare. I find politics and the whole process interesting; it feels empowering to know how things are going in the backend, because in knowing what the next contract could be, I can decide what to bring to negotiations and the labour movement to try and help our members as best as I can.”
She also believes in ongoing education, being a part-time student herself, and advises other nurses to do the same as the field continues to grow.
“The options for nurses are endless, in that you can choose what you want to learn and are always learning something new. It’s easy to get comfortable in a position you’re working in and doing mandatory training but increasing your body of knowledge helps you advocate for your profession.”
Evelyn Belchior has been a Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) since 1995, and currently specializes in psychiatric nursing at Niagara Health. Having worked for many years in the emergency department, her sense of social justice and drive for political action in the healthcare system are in full force. As an SEIU Healthcare member, she shares her sentiments about collective action in the everchanging healthcare industry.
“I believe in the things SEIU Healthcare does, such as social justice and medical care for all. Every family in Canada should have housing, food, and affordable and accessible healthcare. Unions represent a collective body to do the right thing. They don’t choose to do good things just for themselves, but for others as well. The healthcare system isn’t just serving the people who have helped to created it – it serves everybody. The recent minimum wage increase didn’t affect union members as much as general society, and most of us have medication coverage as unionized workers, but a lot of Canadians don’t, so we try to ensure everybody has those same rights.”
Change is inevitable in healthcare, and Evelyn emphasizes the need to maintain these rights and other basic needs.
“Healthy bodies don’t exist if we don’t have affordable housing, clean water, healthcare, socialization, and good nutrition. People shouldn’t have to make a choice between one of those necessities and another. This links political action with healthcare. I’ve worked in many areas of healthcare and have come to embrace political action. If our political leaders are not made aware of the challenges in healthcare, they may not support the changes required to maintain one of the most fundamental Canadian values - accessible quality healthcare for all.
“No matter what sector of the healthcare system you work in as a nurse, there are always ways to make things work better, whether in long-term care, homecare, mental health and addictions, or acute hospital care. Making a positive impact in improving the lives of the patients you care for helps you to not be stagnant in your profession, and it drives positive change for your profession and community.”
Nursing is a growing profession that requires constant learning and a natural want to care for people. For over two decades, Evelyn has made this her life, and is a strong advocate for its growth.
“I never thought of being anything else – nursing chose me. I love the idea of being able to help people, and when you widen your care to a whole population of people, you’re constantly changing to help even more people in better ways.”
Evelyn is also a mentor for new nurses and offers this advice to them, pointing out that education is a two-way street:
“Embrace mentorship; seek a mentor for yourself, but also mentor new colleagues and nurses. It’s very rewarding and provides a learning experience. With every student I’ve encountered, I’ve learned something new, which allows me to prepare myself as well as the next generation of nurses to carry out the work that needs to be done. Nurses also shouldn’t be afraid to embrace their political side, their union, and their professional associations; this is where we can all come together to generate great ideas and continue to foster positive change.”