Q&A with Nursing grad Tessa Whitehouse

Tessa Whitehouse

It’s National Nursing Week, a time to honour the contributions that nurses make to people, communities and health care. This year’s theme is Changing Lives, Shaping Tomorrow. We spoke to graduating Bachelor of Science in Nursing student Tessa Whitehouse (pictured above) about her experience at UVic and her work over the past two decades in geriatric care, primary care and at local non-profit agencies as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Here, Whitehouse talks about what drew her to nursing, why she wants to become a Registered Nurse (RN) and where she sees her career going next.

How did you become interested in a career in nursing?

I thought I was going to work for the government—all of my family worked for government. I took one of those career tests in high school, and it said 100 per cent that you should be a nurse. I’m from Buckingham, Quebec, and I entered a CEGEP [public college] three-year nursing program. I got a diploma, which allowed me to work in Quebec and gave you a certain amount of time to do a bachelor’s degree [to become fully qualified as an RN].

I ended up working in a private retirement home as an LPN. I loved the family feel and through that experience with them you get some experience in palliative care. Then I got married and moved to Israel with my husband for three years, where I worked as a nanny. When I came back to Canada, I worked in a family doctor’s office. Then I moved out to BC.

Ever since I finished my diploma, I have wanted to become an RN. They’re both valid and beautiful careers but I’d always considered going back to school to open more opportunities.

More recently, your nursing work has focused on serving vulnerable and marginalized groups. You’ve worked at Beacon Community Services and Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre. You’ve also volunteered at Victoria Hospice. What direction do you see your career going next?

Before coming to UVic, I worked for four years with Portland Hotel Society as an LPN in primary care with a focus on mental health and substance use disorders. I really enjoyed the work. A big part of my decision to go back to school was wanting to serve that community better.

What I’ve enjoyed about having these different jobs is getting a broader view of the health system. When I was young, straight out of high school, I was drawn to seniors and palliative care. Later in life, I thought, ‘I want to start something new.’ Within mental health and substance use there are so many avenues to pursue.

Were you able to pursue those interests during your nursing degree at UVic?

At UVic, I got to work in adult mental health as an employed student nurse. For my longest placement at the end of third year, I worked with the early psychosis intervention team at the Eric Martin Pavilion.

For my final placement, I worked at the Cool Aid Society. It was the most similar work to what I was doing at Portland Hotel Society. Recently, I got a Monday to Friday job as a provisional RN at Cool Aid. I’ll be doing outreach, going out in vans, offering primary care and working with folks with mental health and substance use issues.

That’s amazing! Congratulations. Given that it’s National Nursing Week, could you share with us what motivates you as a nurse?

It’s such a privilege to support people in their hardest days and to share knowledge I’ve learned over time. Because my family lives so far away, I can’t always be there for them. But I can support other people and I want to support them as I’d want someone else to support my family. It feels like such a privilege to be able to do that.

Do you have any advice for future nurses?

For a future nurse, I’d encourage them to be thoughtful and mindful of their motivations and what they expect, and to have the humility to learn and grow. Also, to have the strength to stand up for themselves because it’s a challenging time to be in this field. There is power in numbers. We are a force. There are a lot of nurses and we can accomplish a lot if we stick together.