Stephanie Gilbert, Territorial Specialist, Public Health
When Stephanie moved to Tulita in 2006, she took a casual admin contract at the Health Center, which opened her eyes to remote nursing in the north:
“I saw the Community Health Nurses (CHNs) there and the kind of work they were doing … the way that they put the community first, the way that the focus was on community wellness, and community-specific interests…. they really looked at health and wellness from the community perspective. Looking at what was important to the Elders there. I remember thinking that that was amazing. I didn't know that nurses could work like that.”
The experience at the Health Center prompted Stephanie to enrol at Aurora College. She started a few months later and completed the four-year Nursing degree in Yellowknife. Stephanie took two subsequent post graduate programs: the Community Health Nurse Development Program and the Certificate in Remote Nursing program. She felt both were extremely beneficial to her career – she was able to shadow nurses in placements to build her skill set, capacity, and competencies in advanced practice nursing.
Being an Indigenous person in the North, Stephanie feels it is important to provide culturally competent care to other northerners.
“It is important for us to keep always in the back of our minds the history of the north. This is a place where that land belongs to the Indigenous people. We all have a lot to learn as visitors to this land.
But, if you come with good intent and an open heart, you will be welcomed, and you'll really enjoy yourself… and you can learn to honour the history of this land while also learning amazing nursing skills and getting great nursing experience all at the same time.”
Since beginning her career in nursing, Stephanie has worked in many NWT communities including Fort Simpson, Inuvik, Łutselk’e, Fort Smith, and now Yellowknife. She was especially:
“…proud when I felt I was accepted by a community - really feeling like I was a part of that community and the people there, even though I wasn't from there. They allowed me to provide care to them and I felt that they trusted and appreciated me.”
Through COVID, Stephanie helped in a variety of ways - from opening and running a testing center, providing call coverage for the Territory, immunizations, and contact tracing. Her final role through this time was the COVID Outbreak Clinical Coordinator. Stephanie and her team helped coordinate access to testing, isolation supports and referrals to various programs and services, completing virtual assessments and assisting referral to in-person assessment when needed, and to complete contact tracing as well as symptom monitoring through the course of a client’s illness or isolation.
Stephanie tries to be very intentional about creating a safe space and having clients have the room and autonomy to navigate what they would like the nurse-client relationship to be.
“Listen to their stories, get to know them, and most importantly try to understand what they are sharing with you. Give people a safe place to share with you, and subsequently you will learn more about yourself as a person and more about yourself as a nurse and this will improve your nursing care.
Be relational. It's about hearing stories, sharing stories, and communicating.”
In the summer of 2021, Stephanie was featured in the Canadian Nurse True North series, a group of articles focusing on the stories and practice of nurses who work in northern Canada. On April 6, 2022, Stephanie spoke at the Canadian Nursing Association Indigenous Leaders Series about Inuit and implications for nursing.
On top of being a busy mom and an Indigenous advocate, Stephanie is currently in the role of Territorial Specialist, Public Health with the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority. In this job, she provides support with public health programming. She helps set up and implement program standards, processes, and policies. A perfect role to continue to learn, challenge herself and share her experiences with others.
“A beautiful thing about working for the GNWT is that if you have a lot of interest and you have passion and drive and you want to learn, you can do that… There's always an opportunity to learn a new role or to take on a new challenge.”