After so many years on the front lines of public health Jan guesses that she’s handled “tens of thousands of arms” to protect people from illnesses ranging from the flu to meningitis. “It wasn’t unusual in days past for us, as individual nurses, to do at least 100 people at a flu clinic,” says Jan. “That would be one flu clinic out of many each year and then infant immunizations, school immunizations - a lot of immunizations.”
Healthcare called Jan early. She began at Royal Jubilee Hospital back in 1970 when she was in Grade 11.
“It was good to work at the Jubilee,” she says. “I started off in Housekeeping and as I went through my courses at UBC I worked up from a nurse’s aide to an LPN and then graduated to an RN.”
In 2016 she marked 40 years as a nurse, almost all of that time in Public Health. “I felt that I could make more of a difference, that I could use the full scope of the skills that I’d learned at university,” says Jan. “I think my passion for prevention really grew as I worked in Public Health, working upstream in the healthcare system to prevent things, keeping people out of hospital.”
Of course, immunization has always been a big part of Public Health. Jan describes it as one of the most direct things you can do, with “not a lot of mystery as to whether or not you’re doing any good.”
And while her working life has focused on the ‘public’ in Public Health, it’s also comes from very personal motivation.
“When my son was almost three years old, our neighbor’s son of the same age came down with meningococcal disease and he died,” she says, the emotion still surfacing in her voice after so many years. “Today I immunized several kids against that type of meningococcal disease that the young boy died from. It’s pretty amazing. Not only do the vaccines improve, but the variety of things that we can protect kids against now is much greater than it used to be.”
Now retired from Public Health, Jan has been working casual on this year’s annual flu season immunization campaign. She enjoys the immunization clinics because they bring her into contact with a broad cross section of the public.
“In the broader role of Public Health nursing, when I was doing the full scope, we would be focussing a lot on young families, prenatal, postnatal, but generally not the senior or the older populations,” she says. “That’s always been a fun part of doing flu clinics.”
Being on Jan’s end of the needle is demanding work. The nurses must maintain their immunization certification from the BC Centre for Disease Control. It’s important to ensure that the best, most current, and safest techniques are standard practice. And while it’s easy to see an immunization clinic as simply an organized exercise in repetition, Jan says that’s not what it’s about.
“It requires a lot of focus because even though it’s repetitive, every person that you see, you need to see them as an individual and really focus on where things are at for them,” she says.
“Some people can be very anxious. Some people have lots of questions. Some people just want to get in and out,” says Jan. “There’s so many different individuals that we’re dealing with so they need to be the focus when they’re in that chair and we’re having that conversation.”
Even immunizing young children has unexpected rewards, says Jan. “Kindergarten kids used to be my favourites because there’s so much you can do to help them feel at ease,” she says.
“It’s the same with everybody really, when you see that they have done what they wanted to do, which is get through that immunization – to know that that momentary challenge for them is very small compared to the repercussions of the diseases that we immunize against – we can really celebrate with them, acknowledge it and help them feel good about getting through that.”
Every interaction is an opportunity to connect, says Jan. “Recently with a Grade 6 girl, she was feeling very anxious, so we started to talk about things that make her feel better or things that she likes to do,” she recalls. “She’s a dancer and she told us all sorts of things about her dancing. We learned a lot from it and she got through the experience. It’s sort of honing in on those things that will make a difference in that moment.”
It’s those interactions with people that Jan will miss the most.
“I won’t miss having to poke people in the arm but I will miss the collegiality and all the great folks that we get to meet along the way,” she says. “There’s a lot of work that happens behind the scenes, a lot of volunteers that come out and help with those big clinics that we do. It’s all of that that it’s a real joy to be part of.”
Frontline healthcare workers like Jan are invaluable in the effort to improve public health. “I would like to congratulate Jan on her 40 years of committed service to providing excellent Public Health nursing,” says Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns. “I also want to thank Jan and all of the Public Health nurses, support staff and volunteers for their dedication, skill and expertise in providing immunizations that protect us from so many diseases. Your work is deeply appreciated.”
Island Health Communications Officer