Elizabeth Gilbert is a registered nurse at ParaMed Home Health Care in London, Ont., working in both the clinic and in schools. She has been a nurse for over 30 years and is now an acting SEIU Healthcare steward.
Elizabeth grew up in a small town in Newfoundland with a nursing school within walking distance from her home. She would have had to travel a long way for any other educational opportunity. So, after finishing high school in Grade 11, she entered an essay contest to win a $500 scholarship for the nursing program. She won the contest, leaving her with only a small portion of the tuition fees left to pay.
“It was the best $125 I ever spent. The tuition was $625 for your two and a half years of education, including all your books, your uniform, and everything else,” says Elizabeth. “I think about it now and can’t believe what a good deal that was.”
Elizabeth started her career in hospital care, but when she moved to Ontario, she began working in community care. She has worked in numerous facets of community care, including complex care of children in their homes, working with children in schools, meeting community clients in the clinic, wound care, foot care, and flu shot clinics.
Nursing has been a good profession
“I do enjoy what I do, it has been a good profession. It has been something adaptable over the years. As my family needs changed, I have been able to adapt what I have been doing,” says Elizabeth. “I like the interactions I have with my patients, and I like knowing that I can go home at the end of the day feeling good that I have helped somebody.
“For instance, I have had someone come in the clinic, I looked at their foot and sent them to the hospital and they said: ‘If you hadn’t sent me to the hospital, then I would have lost my whole leg’. So, you have experiences like that which are rewarding.”
Elizabeth has enjoyed working in the community as opposed to the hospital, because of the one-to-one nurse-patient relationship.
“Even when you are busy, you only have one person in front of you at a time,” she says. “So even if I am only with that person for 15 to 20 minutes, I am able to focus solely on that person and I don’t have 10 emergencies happening down the hallway or six buzzers going off. That is what I like the most about community nursing, the ability to really focus on one person and that person is the most important person for however long their visit is.”
Helping people live better lives
When ParaMed joined the SEIU Healthcare movement, Elizabeth decided to become involved because while she is good at standing up for herself in the workplace, she knows some of her colleagues are not as comfortable advocating for themselves.
“I thought, if we are unionized, then I want to be involved,” says Elizabeth. “I want to find out what’s going on and I want my voice to be heard. So, I got involved with SEIU Healthcare. What I found out was that the union’s values really are my values as well. It is about making working conditions better for people and helping people live better lives. That is a motivator for me.”
“I am really grateful that SEIU Healthcare has come in to my workplace and that I have had the opportunity to be involved,” she says.
Leadership Academy and canvassing involvement
Elizabeth has participated in SEIU Healthcare’s Leadership Academy program and says it broadened her perspective on different ways to enact change.
“I never really thought of getting involved in political action or anything like that,” she says. “But I am really hoping for changes, particularly within the homecare sector, because I can really see the potential for improvement. I think a lot of issues will need to be tackled politically. I never thought about being involved in politics before I went to the Leadership Academy, but it really gave me a new perspective.
She had also never considered that she would go knocking on people’s doors to encourage them to vote, but she did just that recently during SEIU Healthcare’ Team Up canvassing campaign. “I actually really did enjoy it and it didn’t intimidate me. I would totally do it again.”
Outside of nursing and SEIU Healthcare involvement, Elizabeth’s number one priority is her family. She enjoys spending time with her husband, her two sons, her daughter-in-law, and her three grandchildren. She also likes taking trips in their family RV and being active outdoors, including hiking, biking, and kayaking.