May 31, 2021

Nursing faculty begins pilot project for well-being of students, faculty and staff

Nurse Practitioner Mental Health and Wellness Service will offer resources this fall
Sandy Strachan
Sandy Strachan with fiance John and dog Penny.

The profession of nursing is stressful and the process of becoming a registered nurse is equally challenging. That is one reason UCalgary Nursing is launching an innovative nurse practitioner (NP)-led mental health and well-being clinic this fall. 

When the faculty formally adopted the University of Calgary Campus Mental Health Strategy (CMHS) in 2018, the commitment was to develop an emotionally safe, caring learning and working environment where nursing students, faculty and staff thrive.   

“With the added angst that the pandemic has brought on, we have seen more and more of our nursing community challenged,” says Dr. Sandra Davidson, dean of UCalgary Nursing. “We wanted to offer an in-house support for our well-being.” 

NP and UCalgary Nursing instructor Sandy Strachan understands the toll of nursing stress. “I have been in the trenches as an advanced practice RN; frontline work is demanding and there is always a cost if we don’t take care our own health needs,” she says.

Strachan, who has a specialization in addiction and mental health, will be managing the clinic. She also helped develop the faculty’s graduate certificate in this area. “We need skills, as educators, that we are able to utilize so we can be good role models for our students. We also need to learn to be well. When I think of (ancient Greek physician Hippocrates quote) ‘first, do no harm,’ I also think of ‘do no harm to yourself’ and we have to be better advocate for that.” 

Strachan’s role will be as “bridge builder." She says, "I will act as a liaison and help our community — whether it is students, faculty or staff — find the resources needed to feel well or help stabilize mental health so someone feels well enough to access those resources.” 

She adds that the crisis of COVID-19 has created an all-new set of anxieties for nurses.

There is fatigue, time pressure, overwork, unresolved grief and a lingering occupation trauma that will take time to resolve. COVID-19 has placed immense stress on the health-care systems, and the cracks are now visible. We need to help identify and shore up those cracks, now that we can see them; that includes addressing cracks that have appeared within yourself.

A few students have already been referred to Strachan by UCalgary Nursing’s undergraduate associate dean and course co-ordinators, and she was able to direct them to resources as well as provide targeted interim counseling and support. But the ultimate goal is not to be reactive. Strachan is hopeful that a proactive approach may help mitigate long-term mental and emotional fallout.

“It’s kind of like having a smoke detector that needs batteries,” she explains. “You hear that beep and if you do nothing about it, you may forget about it until disaster happens. 

“I am hoping to build capacity in our faculty with a preventive program that helps with time management and self-care and firmly establishes a culture of safety and trust. It will take time, but in five years, we will see a change where our faculty environment is more nourishing and safer for everyone working within it.” 

The pilot clinic is supported by UCalgary Nursing with some funding from the Olympia Charitable Foundation. 

“My role as a leader is to create a culture and set the bar for how we work together in a way that honours not just our academic and professional excellence, but also our personal wellness,” Davidson said when the faculty began creating a wellness plan for work and study. 

“We’ll produce better nurses and will be better positioned to attract talented researchers and top students.”