Pain reliever

February 2014   Comments

Clinical nurse specialist Janice Rae has devoted her career to better management of acute pain

Janice Rae leads an advanced epidural workshop for nurses from Calgary hospitals.
Teckles Photography Inc.

When she was offered her dream job with the Acute Pain Service at Foothills Medical Centre, it took all the discipline Janice Rae could muster not to leap up and shout “yes” right then and there. “Of course, I figured I should think about it for a day or so. But I knew right away I wanted it.”

Rae’s interest in acute pain management goes back as far as 1993, when she landed a position as a medical-surgical nurse at the University of Southern California (USC) University Hospital in Los Angeles. She had completed her bachelor of nursing degree at the University of Calgary the year before. “USC was a newish teaching hospital, and they were looking for nurses who were adaptable and curious,” explains Rae. “I think they also had a soft spot for Canadians.”

The facility had a good pain team and an associated mentoring program. Rae learned quickly. “I was asked to help teach workshops with the acute pain management coordinator, who didn’t like public speaking. After she left, I was offered her job and stayed for a couple of years.”

By that time, Rae was hooked. “Pain management challenged me mentally and kept me on my toes. And there was such satisfaction that came with relieving pain in patients.” She also realized she loved sharing her knowledge of best practices and seeing the results in improved patient care.

Building from the ground up

The avid hiker, mountain biker and downhill skier moved back to Calgary, her hometown, when she heard that Rockyview General Hospital was looking for someone to start up an acute pain service. “It was a one-in-a-thousand opportunity. I handled the logistics and developed the teaching modules for a comprehensive certification program for nurses. It was a great day when our postoperative patients could have their epidurals monitored by nurses on the surgical floor, not just in the ICU.”

There was some resistance at first, she says, to doing things in a new way. That’s where her admittedly outgoing personality came in handy. “It was really about good public relations,” she explains. “I began by developing relationships with the surgeons, pharmacists, anesthesiologists, nurses on the floor and managers. Then, as everyone became educated about pain management techniques, their commitment to excellent patient outcomes combined with our increased confidence helped move things ahead.”

Art and science

Once the service was established, Rae found she was missing the faster pace of a teaching hospital. The job offer from Foothills, one of Alberta’s largest hospitals, came at the right time for her. The Acute Pain Service is composed of nurses and anesthesiologists, led by a medical director. As the team has grown, Rae has had many opportunities to mentor team members and design education programs. For example, in 2012, she took the lead in developing nursing policies and educating nurses on the use of neuraxial ports to administer epidural and intrathecal infusions for patients in palliative care.

“Why I find pain management so engaging and meaningful is that it’s really as much an art as a science, especially when there are such differences in patients,” says Rae.

Dance is another art form Rae is passionate about. Trained in ballet and jazz as a youngster, at 17 she was selected to perform in the Calgary Stampede’s grandstand show. After her two children were born, she returned to dancing, experimenting with African, jazz and modern styles. “I’m in a class of moms, and we’re planning to do our own piece in the next studio recital, right alongside the cool kids,” Rae says enthusiastically. “I just love moving with music and the feeling of being lighter than air.”

Rae is solidly committed to her area of practice. Her master’s degree research explored differences in perceptions of post-surgical pain intensity. She presents at conferences across Canada, reviews book chapters and articles and is a member of the Canadian Pain Society and its nursing issues group. She is particularly proud of her leadership role with the Calgary Pain Education Foundation, a non-profit health-care professionals group. It’s all part of spreading the word, she says.

10 Questions with Janice Rae

What is one word you would use to describe yourself?

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?
Being 10 minutes late too often

What are you most proud of having accomplished?
Surviving a divorce, buying a house, completing a master’s degree and becoming a mom

What is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn?
I went to a scotch-tasting event on Hugh Hefner’s property. No, I didn’t meet Hugh 

“If I had more free time, I would...”
Organize my photo albums and learn to speak French

Where did you go on your last vacation?
San Francisco

Name one place in the world you’d most like to visit.

What was the last good book you read?
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

What is the best thing about your current job?
Being able to reduce a patient’s acute pain in a relatively short period of time

Name one change you would like to make to the health system.
I’d establish pain services in regions of Canada that don’t have them

Leah Geller

Leah Geller is a freelance health and science writer in Ottawa.

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