A nurse first

November 2013   Comments

One of Rachel Bard’s former bosses, the premier of New Brunswick at the time, would introduce her first as a nurse, and then as a deputy minister. Over the last 42 years, Bard has held senior positions on the provincial and national stages, but she has always stayed true to the fundamentals of her profession. Canadian Nurse sat down with her to discuss her career and her thoughts on where CNA and the profession are headed.

Rachel Bard at the biennial convention, June 2012
Teckles Photography Inc.

Rachel Bard was raised in Edmundston, N.B., and attended nursing school there. She was drawn to mental health nursing, and working in the community opened her eyes to the influence of the social determinants of health. Motivated to share her knowledge more broadly, she left direct care nursing and was appointed to the province’s mental health commission in the mid-1980s.

Early on in her career, she became head of the Moncton chapter of her union and took on increasing responsibilities with the Nurses Association of New Brunswick. The next step was an appointment to the board of CNA. Bard served as CNA president from 1996 to 1998. In 2009, she returned to the association as its chief executive officer. She retires from this position in December.

What are some things that define your time as CEO, things that you’re particularly proud of?

The National Expert Commission was certainly a new way of engaging with partners, many of them not in nursing. We see the ripple effect the Commission has had in terms of where we can start to influence at different levels, be it the Top 5 in 5, the quality safety agenda, the future preparation of nurses or “health in all policies.” I really believe in the work of the Commission and think it was certainly a valuable experience.

And, obviously, the work with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Mental health has always been the driver in my career. The more we can demystify mental illness and remove the stigma, and bring in standards that incorporate mental health, the greater balance we can bring to individuals, workplaces and society as a whole. It’s great that CNA has been, as an organization, able to support, advance and continue this work. If I look back over my career, I’ve always believed in practising what we teach. We can’t just talk about it, we have to live it. And of course you cannot be a leader without looking after your own people. If you want positive results, you need to keep your workforce healthy. I learned this when I was a deputy minister of labour. We asked all the ministers of labour across Canada to endorse a healthy workplace charter because a healthy workplace equates to a healthy workforce and a prosperous economy.

Do you have any sense of what the next few years will bring for CNA?

CNA will continue to advance the profession. Yes, we have been going through a bit of a turbulent time, but we will navigate through it. Society needs strong nursing at the bedside, at the decision-making level and in the community, and we need a strong association to be out there as a go-to organization for governments at all different levels.

The association can’t do it all by itself. It needs its members, its partnerships, its jurisdictions and the network of specialty groups. And I do think we need to work with the whole family of nursing to strengthen our voice and unify our message. Divisiveness is not the way to bring change. It diminishes and weakens your voice. We need to keep in mind the patient and the family. We have to always think outward and remind ourselves who we are doing this for. That, in itself, removes barriers and creates an environment of collaboration because we are working for a common cause, not trying to protect our little domain.

You’ve accomplished so much in the past 42 years…

That’s why it’s time for me to retire! But actually, I will not stop. I think I’ll retire from full-time work, but I will be involved in the community or with boards to influence policy and influence changes. That’s just my nature.

Do you have any plans for some downtime?

I will definitely take a bit of a break. I have spent so many years working and looking after others. I think now I will devote a bit of time to me and my family. I want to travel a bit and re-establish myself in New Brunswick.

And I’ll spend more time in Europe. My son and daughter-in-law, who is Norwegian, live in Norway. Hopefully, I’ll be able to enjoy the life of a grandmother, if they have children. Right now he is in Kirkenes, which is in the north. I’ll be going on a northern European cruise and will get to see more of the country — we leave from Amsterdam, then go up to Bergen and all the way up to the Arctic Circle. Norway seems to be a beautiful country and they have beautiful social programs. I want to learn more about it.

What message do you have for nurses?

Nurses need to see themselves as agents of change. Given the size and complexity of the health-care system, we need a strong profession that can influence changes at all levels, from bedside nursing care to policy decisions. By having a proactive approach, there are always things you can do to create change.

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