Oct 01, 2013
By Kate Jaimet

A history-making practice

Hazel Booth can now put all her skills and expertise as an NP to use in Yukon

Teckles Photography Inc.Spending time outdoors is a way of life in Yukon, says Hazel Booth.

To say that Hazel Booth is the first nurse practitioner registered to practise in Yukon barely hints at the years of work that went into achieving this milestone. Revisions to the territory’s Registered Nurses Profession Act were required to introduce the regulation of NPs. The Yukon Registered Nurses Association needed to develop core competencies, standards of practice, clinical expectations and a registration process. A small group of committed individuals, Booth among them, had been advocating for NPs in the territory for a decade. Patience, perseverance and relationship building are what made it happen, Booth says.

Feeling limited
Although she was a licensed NP in Ontario, Booth could not work to her full scope of practice in the positions she took on in the territory. “I had the training and experience to do so much as an NP, but I wasn’t allowed to be one. An advanced practice role existed at that time but there were limitations on what you could prescribe and on what you could manage on your own.”

Born and raised in Ottawa, Booth began her career in neonatal intensive care at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in the late 1990s. There, she developed clinical expertise and the communication skills she needed for working with a special patient population and their families.

Though she loved her time at CHEO, she applied, on an impulse, for a job that required her to fly in to aboriginal communities in northern Ontario. “I had one of those all-encompassing roles: going into schools, doing health promotion and immunizations, providing emergency care and handling walk-in clinics,” she says. “I learned so much about the importance of the basic determinants of health and my role as a health-care provider.”

Wanting to formalize the knowledge she’d gained, she returned to the University of Ottawa in 2000 to complete a master’s degree in nursing and nurse practitioner requirements.

The pull of the north
Between semesters, Booth had begun doing locums in remote Yukon communities, including Beaver Creek, Teslin and Pelly Crossing. Nursing colleagues had told her that the territory was a fascinating place to work. She didn’t mind the long hours of travel back and forth at the time, she says, but gradually she succumbed to the pull of the north and decided to settle permanently in the territory. “It took me a while to fully commit,” she laughs. Her partner is a Yukoner and both of her children were born in Whitehorse. She is enthusiastic about the adventurous lifestyle: “We enjoy all kinds of activities, winter and summer. Skiing and mountain biking are favourites.”

Almost from the moment she first arrived, Booth started putting her own efforts into bringing the NP role to Yukon. She met with colleagues who were licensed as NPs in other jurisdictions, key policy-makers in the territorial government and nursing leaders. Her sense was that some people felt that the legislation already in place was sufficient, she says. “I don’t think the value of the NP role and the team approach to health care was well understood. Eventually, as the rest of Canada was doing this, there was acceptance that yes, Yukon should have NPs, too. We gained ground slowly, one person at a time.”

In September 2012, when it was clear the legislation was about to pass, Booth was hired as an NP by the continuing care division of the territory’s Health and Social Services Department. Part of her role was to actually design the position she was about to take on. Finally, in June of 2013, Booth started providing NP services to residents in three long-term care facilities in Whitehorse. When a resident experiences an acute medical problem, she goes on site to manage the situation, assess the patient and order medications and diagnostics. A clinic for homeless clients is also benefiting from her expertise.

Booth, who sits on YRNA’s nurse practitioner advisory and steering committees, hopes that more job opportunities for NPs will arise in both primary health care and acute care once the exact roles and funding models are worked out. Until Yukon has its own program for nurse practitioner education, however, anyone interested in an NP position must first be licensed in another jurisdiction.

Living in Yukon has many advantages, Booth says, and occasionally provides opportunities to apply her skills in unusual situations, including an encounter with a moose that had fallen through thin ice.

“I was with friends who were doing some rock climbing. They rigged up their pulley system and we pulled it out,” she recalls. “We built a fire and a shelter, poured warm water down the moose’s throat and massaged its muscles. We went back the next day to check on it and saw that it was doing fine.”

10 questions with Hazel Booth

What is one word you would use to describe yourself?

What are you most proud of having accomplished?
Being the best mother I can be

“If I had more free time, I would...”
Play more

Where did you go on your last vacation?
Florida. My mom, also a nurse, lives there

Name one place in the world you’d most like to visit.
I want to do a cycle tour in Europe

What was the last good book you read?
The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

What was the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
No matter where you are working, remember the ABCs: airway, breathing, circulation

What is the best thing about your current job?
Seeing patients have a better quality of life because of the introduction of the NP role

What do you like least about being a nurse?
Any time I have to be away from my family

Name one change you would like to make to the health system.
That it’s not such a “system.” It should be about what’s best for the patient

Kate Jaimet is a freelance writer in Ottawa, Ont.
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