Nov 01, 2014
By Leah Geller

The North is where I want to be

In high school, Brook Davis read Elliott Merrick’s Northern Nurse and knew that was the life she wanted

Davis Family Camping Trip
Dustin DavisDavis and her family on holiday in Teslin Lake

Although Brook Davis grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, she developed a passion for outdoor life at an early age. Her father was a geologist who loved camping, and her mother’s family ran a hunting and fishing camp in Matachewan, 600 kilometres north. “Our vacations revolved around fishing, wiener roasts, berry picking, and boat and snowmobile rides.”

As a biology student at the University of Toronto, Davis signed on for summer jobs that would get her out of the city. She waitressed and tended bar at a fly-in fishing lodge and drove a truck as part of a support team for a cross-Canada cycle tour. Then, working as a canoe guide in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, she met Dustin, a fellow guide she’d later marry, and took a wilderness first responder course.

“The instructor was a medevac flight nurse. We covered emergencies like anaphylaxis and head trauma, and how to improvise when you don’t have the right equipment. I loved the course, and it so reflects what I do now.”

In her final year of a BScN program at U of T, Davis received a scholarship from Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit health branch. She completed her last practicum in northern Manitoba, followed by six-month postings at Thompson General Hospital and at the nursing station in Cross Lake, Man.

“Those experiences confirmed that the North is where I want to be. As soon as Dustin completed the outdoor and experiential education program at Queen’s University, we moved straight to Yukon. Both of us felt this draw to go back there; I’d canoed on the South MacMillan River, and Dustin had been a head guide for a dog sledding company.”

Davis

Today, Davis is the primary health care nurse in charge at Carcross Health Centre, about one hour south of Whitehorse. She and two RN colleagues provide cradle-to-grave care five days a week. “Basically, if something happens anywhere in our region — be it chronic disease, acute care or public health — we handle it.”

The centre is equipped with labs, X-ray equipment and a small pharmacy. Working under an expanded scope of practice, the RNs triage, assess, diagnose and treat. Emergency department physicians are available for phone consultation. “And,” she adds, “because it’s a long way to go for repairs if you have a simple equipment malfunction, we also need to know how to get the generator going, change the carbides on the snowmobile, and prime a water pump.” After hours and weekends, they take turns being on call for emergencies that come in over the radio.

Her training in wilderness medicine has proved invaluable to locals and visitors alike in this vast region of forests, lakes and mountains. When people get hurt, Davis is often called on to respond. “I’ve led crews up Montana Mountain to rescue mountain bikers. In winter, I’ve gone out on snowmobile to locations where helicopters can’t land.”

When the Davises first arrived in 2005, they took positions in Old Crow, a small community that is accessible only by air. She was a nurse in charge at the health centre, and he taught physical education. Then they came up with an idea for a guiding operation of their own.

They moved to a remote cabin completely off the grid, one hour outside Whitehorse, and started up the business from there: “We were raising a baby and dealing with a generator and an unreliable satellite uplink. I was working in a float position at Carcross and had to jump on our quad or snowmobile to get to the car to drive into Whitehorse. For the first two years, I took leave in the summer to act as a guide. But we knew it just wasn’t working. We moved to Carcross, and I got a permanent position.”

Davis has two boys now (Granite, 4, and Shale, 6) and continues to support the family business, helping with accounting and managing the staff. She and her husband, a volunteer with the Carcross ambulance crew, often end up on call together. “We joke that our date nights are the ambulance calls. Once the patient is transferred, we actually have time to chat on the way home.”

Extra help at home comes from a live-in nanny and Davis’s parents, who recently moved in across the street. “Life can be very busy, and sometimes I wish I could just run away with my family,” Davis says. “But I love the autonomy and independence in my job and the fact that no two days are ever the same.”


10 questions with Brook Davis

What is one word you would use to describe yourself?
Workaholic

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?
I’d like longer fingers for digital rectal exams!

What is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn?
I hate being cold

Where did you go on your last vacation?
A moose hunt in Teslin Lake

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

What was the last good book you read?
I read The Gladstone Lakes Mystery, by David Skidd, to my boys

Who inspired you to become a nurse?
My dad told fascinating stories of being treated by outpost nurses in northern Ontario

What was the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
Expect the unexpected

What do you like least about being a nurse?
When I’m not working or on call, people still want to tell me about their diarrhea!

Name one change you would like to make to the health system.
I would like to make Canadians understand how lucky they are to have our health-care system

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