Looking back on a rural nursing career in Hope

After a career spent working at Fraser Canyon Hospital, Jo-Dee Chisholm retires

Barely a week since she retired and Jo-Dee Chisholm’s colleagues are already lamenting her departure.

“She has been a rock star at the hospital,” says Catherine Wiebe, director of clinical operations at Fraser Canyon Hospital. “I already miss her.”

Chisholm joined the nursing staff at Fraser Canyon in May 1992, after graduating from the Northern College of Applied Arts in Kirkland Lake, Ont.

And it was a bit of a fluke that she ended up in Hope for her entire career.

“I had flown out from Ontario to look for work, and I was staying in Surrey with my parents,” she says.

Armed with her resumé and her dad as a travel companion, they headed out to all the Fraser Valley hospitals. But she didn’t even realize Hope had one.

“My dad said ‘We should go to Hope, they have great lunch there,’” she said. And as they sat at the Home Restaurant, she saw the ‘H’ sign for the hospital.

She applied, and by the time they got back to Surrey, Fraser Canyon Hospital officials had called her back.

In those days, the hospital was a much different place than today.

“It hasn’t changed from the outside,” she says. “But it has changed a lot on the inside. When I started we had 32 beds.”

There was the emergency room, the operating room, and a “robust unit” for post-op surgical patients, the usual medical patients, and even a pediatrics unit.

She says it was a self-sufficient rural hospital, and that meant nurses were involved with myriad duties, all across the hospital.

“One day I was scrub nurse, one day I was in post recovery, or I would work emergency,” she says.

“Everything is different now. When I first started nursing the nurse did everything,” she says. “We did physiotherapy and social work, and everything was in our scope. I didn’t even know there was going to be enough time in the day for all we had to do. Now there are so many other different people taking care of the patients.”

Today, due to centralization of health care in the Fraser Health Authority, Hope has just 10 beds and works closely with the larger hospitals down the valley to provide care for Hope’s patients, including convalescence.

And at the tail-end of her career, things shifted in other ways, too.

“I was in a completely different role when I retired,” she says. “I was a patient care coordinator in a partial educator position, developing education plans and getting people registered for courses. And I was helping the team plan successful discharge for complex patients.”

It’s easy to see why she’s already missed, from her hands-on experience to her experience managing patient care.

And Chisholm says her career in Hope has allowed her to experience the full spectrum of nursing, including community care. When someone comes in for treatment at Fraser Canyon Hospital, they are more likely to be your neighbour, your child’s teacher, or a friend.

Hope has offered her everything she needed in nursing, and she never felt the pull to move to a big city hospital. She was able to raise her family here, be active in the youth hockey scene with her son, and stay connected to her patients.

“I would see new moms with their babies at the grocery store,” she says. Babies that she helped deliver, and hands she held through hard times.

“And I got to be the token nurse at my kids’ schools,” she said, which meant being invited along on all the fun field trips. At the rink, it meant being called upon when someone got injured.

But like many working moms, it also meant missing out on other things. With 12-hour shifts she was away a lot, she says. But she enjoyed working nights and being able to have dinner as a family.

All in all, she says, they found a way for it to work.

“Nursing is all encompassing,” she says. “It’s a privileged career that encompasses your whole life and your whole family.”

Now, she’s settling into her new retirement routine slowly, and thinking of what’s next. For now, she’s reflecting and resting.

“Every morning since the first of May, I’ve been in my bed with my cup of coffee and my dog, watching a show I’ve been into,” she says.

“The changes (in nursing) have been significant, and I’ve been through a lot of them, but the hospital and the community have been very supportive of my career. I think rural nursing an awesome career, I didn’t feel like I was ever cheated. Working in a rural community, you’re involved in so many more aspects of their lives, not like in a big hospital. “The only regret is when I would send people to places with higher level of care I have never found out what happened to people.”

And that’s what she says she’ll miss most.

“The people I think,” she says. “I’ll miss the patients, the community connections. And just the privilege to help them through a death, or laugh with them when something exciting happens, or there is a cure or someone gets better.”

READ MORE: Next generation of B.C. nurses already showing resilience


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