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Susan Makanda

Practical Nurse, Whistle Bend Place Care Facility, Government of Yukon
Graduate of Graduate of Practical Nursing program, 2019

May 6 – 12 marks National Nursing Week, with this year’s theme being “Changing Lives. Shaping Tomorrow.” This theme acknowledges the significant impact nurses have on individuals, communities, and the future of healthcare.

In support of Canada’s nurses this year, we are honouring one of our remarkable Niagara College Nursing alumni, Susan Makanda, who graduated from the Practical Nursing program in 2019. We caught up with Sue to learn about the journey that led her to nursing, reflecting on the influence of her personal motivations and experiences, and how her time at Niagara College shaped her approach to nursing in an underserved community like the Yukon Territories.

Current role and career path

I have been working as a Practical Nurse at Whistle Bend Place run by the Government of Yukon since 2019 and it has been great. I am in their newest LTC facility called WBP. Upon hire, I was in a complex care unit and have been in dementia care as well – I can work in any unit, but my home unit is currently Hospice and Palliative Care. Here, we offer service to adults with a clearly defined life-limiting illness in its advanced stages; adults with a prognosis of 3 months or less; and adults with a prognosis of less than 12 months who require a brief respite care stay and adults with a prognosis of longer than 3 months who can be considered on a case-by-case basis. I work alongside Palliative Care physicians, RNs, NHAs, SW and other members of the multidisciplinary team i.e., dietician, pharmacy, OT/PT, recreational therapy, to provide holistic care. This job is very satisfying as I have the honour of taking care of someone during their last months, days, hours or minutes of life. It teaches me to reflect on my life everyday, look at my relationships and value what matters, be kind to people because they are going through stuff that you might never know. I am very humbled by the stories I hear, and one thing that stands out to date from the life stories of my patients is this: as you work, do not forget to live because tomorrow might never come!

Influences and inspiration

Myself. I always wanted to be a nurse but there was no clarity and support. It wasn’t a profession that highflyers would do after A level. In the end, I found myself working in a bank with a BBA in Marketing. After moving to Canada, I just felt it was time I pursue this dream I always had, so it wasn’t that difficult to make a career switch. After graduation, I moved up north to join my husband. The motivation to work up north was influenced by 2 things. First, most people in my country have no access to healthcare because it is expensive and due to geographical locations, that are sometimes too remote and inaccessible. The same reasons that push healthcare workers from remote communities here are the same reasons that push them in Africa. Moving to an underserved community like the Yukon is me saying this is me playing my part to strive for better health for all. Second, after my two years of nursing school, I just wanted to breathe and wind down. You can not find that kind of life in a busy city like Hamilton that is densely populated. I wanted to escape the traffic, the noise, the icy roads, and anything that could give me unnecessary pressure.

Being here in the Yukon is being in the right place at the right time. I have a very good job with a very good employer that offers great job opportunities and support. I consider myself a very determined hard worker. My career goals are set and clear and that’s what I am working to achieve.

Standout NC experience

I always tell people that Nursing school is hard but doable. Did I do it alone? I do not believe so. I had God at the centre of it all because I acknowledged I needed his help every second, the same way I do today. The practical nursing program was very fast paced and demanding, equipping me with the skills required to be a successful nurse in the field. This taught me to be a very organized person and the importance of a network of social supports such as my family, qualified and experienced nurses that I leaned on for emotional support, and my fellow students. Above all this my commute to work was 85km one way so I had friends that I carpooled with. My educational experience taught me to survive here in the Yukon. It also taught be to be very organized and the power of teamwork. When Covid-19 happened, I still showed up, just the way I showed up everyday for my early morning placements and after a one hour drive on an icy road from Hamilton to the Niagara Falls hospital.

Besides being a new immigrant, I was doing school full time, working part time, being a mother with a daughter in high school and a husband in another part of the country, so that on its own made my plate full. I had very good professors who were motivated to see us pass and some of the lessons they taught us still play in my head. Special mention to Dr. Cindy Ko and Dr. Andrea Bodnar for taking us through professional growth courses. Sometimes when I get into a situation, I hear them talking in my head guiding me through the best course of action. What stands out most to me is the people I graduated the Practical Nursing program alongside. I know the road we walked wasn’t easy, and I salute everyone for making it to the end.

Words of wisdom

Transitioning from a thriving career in banking, where I accumulated over 13 years of experience, to nursing was a significant shift for me. It’s important to ensure that you are going into nursing for the right reasons because if not, you will not last. I always tell people that it is a calling. Hard work can take you through nursing school but a lot more attributes are required to be the nurse that patients want to look after them. The job can be stressful so always remember you are the most important person; take care of yourself before you take care of anyone else. While the advice to “leave work at work” is easier said than done, it’s vital for maintaining your well-being. Nursing is also a lifelong journey of learning, especially as technology evolves, and patients have greater access to medical information online. Remaining knowledgeable is essential, as patients may inquire about various health topics. You do not want to be nurse wo is not knowledgeable when a patient asks questions. Furthermore, it is important to have an open mind to embrace other perspectives in the now very multicultural society. Self awareness is therefore key, so know your biases and do not let them determine how you deliver your nursing care!

Its an interesting career with endless opportunities so come join us!

“Special mention to Dr. Cindy Ko and Dr. Andrea Bodnar for taking us through professional growth courses. Sometimes when I get into a situation, I hear them talking in my head guiding me through the best course of action.” – Susan Makanda