Feb 01, 2018
By Laura Eggertson

A specialist in primary care

The clinic environment gives Kaitlan Knowles autonomy and the freedom to carve out areas of expertise that match her interests

Teckles Photography Inc.

Primary care practice grabbed hold of Kaitlan Knowles during her senior practicum at the nursing station in Little Grand Rapids, a fly-in community about 260 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

It was 2007, and Knowles was finishing her nursing degree at the University of Manitoba. During an intense 10-week placement, she worked alongside her preceptor to treat patients with diabetes and hypertension, assess respiratory and ear infections and provide prenatal and well-baby care. She also assisted with acute cases requiring medical evacuation to Winnipeg.

“I was exposed to a broad range of health issues. That’s when I knew I wanted to be more of a generalist as a nurse, instead of specializing in one area.”

Her experiences in this small First Nation community convinced her of the importance of being able to work to full scope of practice.

For the past eight years, Knowles has channelled her passion for primary care nursing at the Corydon Primary Care Clinic, operated by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA). Located in the city’s River Heights neighbourhood, the clinic has an interdisciplinary staff that includes nurse practitioners, RNs, physicians, a mental health counsellor and a dietitian.

“The clinic has been a very encouraging environment as far as supporting nurses to work to full scope,” Knowles says. “The focus is on what nurses are really able to do and on pushing the limits; the patients I see have a wide range of health-care needs.”

“That’s what keeps it interesting. One day is never the same as the next,” she laughs.

Diabetes care is an area in which she has gained much expertise. The clinic serves more than 400 patients with the disease. Knowles and a nurse colleague developed diabetes education classes for this group, and they were among the original facilitators of the sessions. Knowles, a certified diabetes educator, also spearheaded an electronic medical record initiative that flags patients with the disease and generates quarterly queries for those who require followup.

“We’ve had a lot of people come back to us who hadn’t been seen for a while,” she says. “The process is labour intensive, but our clinic has identified diabetes care as a priority.”

For a weekly nurse-led walk-in teen clinic, Knowles and her colleagues created charting guidelines that prompt conversations about mental health, sexual and reproductive health, immunizations and substance use.

“You never know what’s going to come out in those conversations,” she says, “but they set the stage for establishing therapeutic relationships.”

Knowles is proud of the clinic’s prenatal and well-baby program, explaining that it is now being rolled out to other community clinics across the WRHA. This program, another she helped create, is founded on the strengths of RNs as health promoters and health educators. It expands on the standardized tools many physicians and nurses use, resulting in more thorough assessments and better continuity of care.

Knowles says she welcomes opportunities to get out into the community and work with others. She is a primary care representative on the health authority’s Baby Friendly Initiative community committee and has helped improve access to primary care for those attending a drop-in meal program at a downtown church.

She spent four years of her childhood in Ghana, where her father was working for a mining company. Her mother, who was then a nurse, founded the Osu Children’s Library Fund, an NGO promoting reading and children’s libraries. Knowles has since returned twice to the African nation as a volunteer with the organization, teaching first aid and assisting at the libraries.

As the new year began, the clinic was scheduled to amalgamate with the larger Access Fort Garry clinic, about seven kilometres to the south. Knowles acknowledges that the past few months have been a stressful time for patients and clinic staff but believes there is an opportunity for patients to have increased access to a broader range of services because primary care and social services will be housed in one building.

Although comfortable with the pace of work in a busy clinic, Knowles understands the importance of taking care of herself and managing stress, especially when things feel a bit uncertain. Walking to work and staying active are helpful, she says. On weekends, she and her husband, Steve, enjoy swimming and cross-country skiing with their daughters, who are seven and four.

A strong believer in the role of community connections in promoting health and well-being, she credits the support of her own community — family, friends and colleagues — with providing the balance she needs.

10 questions with Kaitlan Knowles

What is one word you would use to describe yourself?

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?
I’d have the confidence to be consistently more vocal

What are you most proud of having accomplished?
Keeping work-life balance, to the degree that it’s possible!

What is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn?
At 18, I travelled in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan

“If I had more free time, I would...”
Start putting together family photo albums

Where did you go on your last vacation?
Took a camping road trip to southern Ontario to my grandparents’ cottage

Name one place in the world you’d most like to visit.
East Coast of Canada

What was the last good book you read?
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (I read it out loud with my seven-year-old)

Who inspired you to become a nurse?
My mother, Kathy, who started off her career as a nurse

Name one change you would like to make to the health system.
Health-care change should be done at the right pace and for the right reasons, with patient care being the driving force

Laura Eggertson is a freelance journalist in Ottawa.

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