Four nurses serving Indigenous communities are being honoured with this year’s Indigenous Services Canada Award of Excellence in Nursing.
The award recognizes nurses serving First Nation or Inuit communities.
Lee Ann Sock from Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick said winning the award was surprising.
“I’m so proud to be recognized for the services that I provided for my community,” said Sock, 55.
“I also think the award validates that I’m doing something right.”
She’s spent close to 27 years in nursing and serving the Mi’kmaw community about 90 kilometres north of Moncton. Sock said she’s committed to seeing her community receive culturally safe care.
She takes on three prominent roles at the community health centre: as the home and community care nurse manager, the maternal and child health nurse manager and the pandemic co-ordinator.
She said many Indigenous people face racism in their day-to-day interactions, and when it comes to health care, it can be a real detriment to their health. Sock also speaks Mi’kmaw and understands people worry things may get lost in translation dealing with health services outside the community.
She said Mi’kmaw is an expressive language and might not have the same impact when translated to English.
“For our clients and especially our elders that speak Mi’kmaw, I think it’s so valuable that they’re heard with all their concerns and they’re heard in the right way,” said Sock.
Her late sister Margaret Levy, who won the nursing excellence award in 2007, was a big reason why she chose nursing as a career.
“My sister was a nurse and I wanted to be like her,” said Sock.
“My dream was to always work for my community and to always work for my people.”
Sock said she hopes she sees more Indigenous nursing programs to help with recruitment. She says it’s a rewarding career and would like to see more Indigenous nurses.
Recruitment and retention a challenge
The other three award recipients are Hannah Gray, Alexa Bisaillon and Elizabeth Oguntuase, who do not identify as Indigenous, but work in Indigenous communities.
Candidates for the award are nominated based on nursing care, cultural care and professionalism and then are reviewed by members from national organizations like Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association and the Canadian Nurses Association, among others.
“Excellence in nursing translates to quality care for Indigenous people in Canada,” said Robin Buckland, Indigenous Services Canada’s chief nursing officer.
Buckland said there are about 300,000 nurses in Canada and Indigenous nurses account for less than 10 per cent of that. She said over 20 per cent of ISC’s nursing staff self-identifies as Indigenous but its goal is around 30-40 per cent.
“If we’re able to recruit different First Nation nurses from different communities, speaking different First Nation languages, then we ultimately strengthen our ability to give that culturally competent care,” said Buckland.
She said she hopes by celebrating Indigenous nurses like Sock, more Indigenous people will be drawn to the nursing field.
Buckland said the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the challenges of recruiting and retaining nurses globally and retention for remote and isolated communities is challenging, too. Buckland said she hopes all nurses feel appreciated.
“I think we all need to underline what an incredible opportunity it is to be able to work in remote and isolated communities and to be able to serve First Nation communities,” said Buckland.