The art and science of caring

Human and Social Development

- Erin Hall

James Matthew Besa caring for a resident in a long-term care home in Nelson, BC. Photo Credit: Adrian Wagner Studio

There’s something beautiful that happens when good things happen to good people, especially when their hard work pays off. This was the case for James Matthew Besa, who self-identifies as a cis-male nursing student of colour. His genuine, caring character and commitment to the field of nursing were recognized this past year through the Margaret A. Evans Memorial Scholarship. The encouragement and financial support from this award came at a time when James desperately needed it to help fulfil his degree requirements.

Leaving a legacy

Margaret A. Evans spent her time compassionately caring for her parents and others who suffered from illness and ailment. The way she lived her life inspired her adoring husband, Bernie, to create a scholarship in her name for students who emulate her gentle and cheerful attributes, which she maintained even through the harsh Depression years. Bernie established the award after Margaret passed in 1981, but her legacy lives on through the lives she touched, and the 111 (and counting) University of Victoria nursing students who have received the award to date.

James’ values fundamentally align with Margaret’s. From an early age, he also passionately cared for people, animals, and the environment. He joined his mother in Nelson, BC in 2016, after immigrating to Canada from the Philippines. Driven by his desire to help people and his remarkably sunny outlook on life, he decided to follow a career in nursing.

Nursing is the art and science of caring. If you look at what we must do every day and you can do it with kindness, then everything that follows will be positive.”

—James Matthew Besa 

More than money

Moving to Victoria as an international student posed several challenges, so James enrolled in the partnership program between Selkirk College and UVic. This allowed him to stay in the Kootenays with his family and helped ease some expenses. Before nursing school, he worked two jobs to help pay for the program. Once school started, James was determined to do whatever it took to become an excellent nurse and he dove headfirst into learning.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t realized his remote location would mean he would need to travel far from home for his practicum placements. The scholarship helped James overcome that obstacle. “Receiving this award gave me some financial freedom. $2,000 is a big deal for me,” says James. He used the scholarship money to purchase a reliable vehicle so he could travel safely to his practicum placement 90 minutes away. Working four days on and three days off, he fitted the car with a mattress and heater so he could stay in it overnight and save travel time between long shifts.

James smiles while leaning on back open trunk of a black SUV that has curtains pulled along the back inside for privacy.

James is proud of the car he was able to purchase and use for travel to practicum placements, thanks to donor funds. Credit: Adrian Wagner Studio

James’ compassionate nature and dedication to helping others shines through his academic and professional journey. Throughout most of his degree, he also worked as a student nurse at a long-term care facility. “Dementia care, palliative care, and end-of-life care are quite hard to do, but I like the atmosphere of home while doing your job and being able to build strong relationships with my patients.” He is also very interested in the developing field of environmental nursing and exploring how the environment affects the mind, body and soul.

During school James also advocated on behalf of fellow students to challenge systemic racism. Having experienced racism first-hand after moving to Canada, James is proud that he channelled that negative energy into positive action. He served as the People of Colour caucus chair for the Canadian Nursing Students’ Association and published his own research, The Diversity Embracement Project. “My aim in making this project is to inspire other nursing students like me to challenge social injustices in nursing programs and society in general,” says James.

So, what’s next for James? After graduation, he plans to work in underserved communities in BC with a goal of one day working for the World Health Organization. Regardless of the exact job or organization, his ultimate dream is simple: “I want to advocate for people like me and to make a little difference.”  


In this story

Keywords: award, philanthropy, nursing, diversity, racism, health

People: James Matthew Besa, Margaret A. Evans

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