Sept. 28, 2020

Experienced RN says all nurses have capacity to lead

2020 Year of the Nurse and the Midwife: Bev Stevenson, BN’84
Bev Stevenson, BN’84
Bev Stevenson, BN’84

A nurse for 35 years, Bev Stevenson has seen it all – or at least most of it – in her diverse roles in Calgary and internationally. From ER nursing in the Caribbean to flight nursing with STARS Air Ambulance, to performing stand-up comedy, writing for Alberta RN Magazine and her current role as staff nurse in Calgary’s Sexually Transmitted Infections Clinic, she has re-invented herself time and time again. She is unapologetic about standing up for her patients over the course of her career and challenging the status quo. And what she has realized is that all nurses, no matter their years of experience, are universally qualified to lead.

“Any nurse can take actions to right a wrong, to improve policies or conditions by having the courage to speak up and speak out, take on that challenge and inspire others to follow suit,” she says. “Nurses are experts with valuable knowledge and experience to make change happen!”

Consider what Year of the Nurse means to you. How would you like this designation to bring attention to the profession?
"Although physicians often get much of the credit, nursing is where the rubber hits the road. Nurses are the ones who put any new ideas/research/policies into practice. We are the ones who directly interact with the patients, the ones who spend time with/form relationships with them, hold their hands, dry their tears, share their struggles, problem-solve, listen to their fears, see them at their worst and take care of them in their darkest hours."

What is the legacy of Florence Nightingale to the next generation of nurses?
"Never give up and ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS!"

Describe a career highlight.
"My very first career highlight still resonates. It was 1985. I was young, inexperienced and working alone on evening shift in the ER of a tiny Caribbean hospital. One of my charges was a healthy 22-year-old female with right lower quadrant pain who had been diagnosed with (non-emergent) appendicitis. Attending physicians didn't see their patients until they were up on the ward - and the ward was full. I watched her condition change in subtle ways. Even though her vital signs remained within normal limits, I just knew that something was terribly wrong. 

The surgeon, annoyed by my calls, refused to see her until she was on the ward, but the ward repeatedly refused to accept her. The ER physician would have nothing to do with a surgeon’s patient. Running out of options, I finally begged both the lab tech to run one more test and the ultrasound tech to complete a scan without a doctor's order, citing my growing concerns.

The scan revealed a perforated tubal pregnancy resulting in a belly full of blood. The surgeon rushed to perform emergency surgery to save that patient's life. Suddenly, a bed became available on the ward. And I got into trouble (also a trend in my career!) for ordering diagnostics, “bothering” the ward, “harassing” the physicians). But I really didn’t mind.

I was just one young person with zero authority working in a backwards system on my own. Sure, I was afraid. For the patient and myself. Yes, I needed that job. I simply spoke up, didn’t give up and used my best judgement. I believe these leadership qualities are imbedded in all nurses, and they are just waiting to be unleashed."

What would a world without nurses look like, in a few words?
"A total disconnect! Nurses are the backbone, the limbs, the digits, the heart - the conduit bringing safe care into practice while protecting the patients."

In January of 2019, the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2020 as the first ever “Year of the Nurse and the Midwife,” in honour of the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

UCalgary Nursing will be celebrating the year with a variety of activities including a series of reflections on the past and future of nursing and health care from our nursing community. Read more at