June 3, 2020

Class of 2020: New nurse plans to advocate for patients at bedside and beyond

2020 Year of the Nurse and the Midwife: Candace Cho, BN’20
Class of 2020: Candace Cho BN'20
Class of 2020: Candace Cho BN'20

In January 2019, the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2020 as the first-ever Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, in honour of the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

UCalgary Nursing will be celebrating the year with a variety of activities including a monthly series of reflections on the past and future of nursing and health care from our nursing community.

When Candace Cho first entered the nursing program at UCalgary, she had a plan to apply for law school directly after finishing her undergraduate degree. It was a promise she had made to herself in Grade 12.

“I’ve always been interested in bigger picture policy changes and advocacy at the interdisciplinary level,” she says.

Leadership and advocacy has always come naturally to Cho.  She held the role of SU Faculty of Nursing representative on the Undergraduate Nursing Society (UNS) for two terms. She was also on the University of Calgary Debate Society team for the last four years, three of which she served as president.

Cho was the Western Regional Director on the Canadian Nursing Students’ Association Board of Directors between January 2019 and January 2020. In that role, she oversaw the nursing chapter schools of Western Canada and spoke as the student voice at NNPBC (Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of British Columbia) and CNA (Canadian Nurses Association) meetings.

  • Photo above by Mariah Wilson, courtesy of the Gauntlet
Dean's Dinner

From left, Leslie Reid, Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning, Sandra Davidson, dean UCalgary Nursing and Cho at the annual SU-hosted Dean’s Dinner.

Passionate about mental health and wellness, Cho says she is very aware of the irony of a profession that supports others in moments of vulnerability yet has a high attrition due to fatigue and burnout.

“This irony has been a huge motivator of mine to advocate for resources to focus on how we can support students to learn and equally prioritize personal health and well-being, the way we do so passionately and fervently for our patients.”

Over the past two years, Cho has been an active member on the team behind UCalgary Nursing’s Mental Health and Wellness Initiative. In 2019, she successfully applied to the SU Quality Money fund to help provide suicide intervention skills training to UCalgary nursing students.

“To date, we’ve trained more than 100 students with certifications and skills in identifying and intervening in crisis not only on campus, in practice and in others, but specifically with ourselves and our friends and family too.”

Cho did her final focus senior preceptorship at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Peter Lougheed Centre. As a part of the Class of 2020, she and so many of her peers were in the final stretch of completing their degrees when the global pandemic hit.

“Working the frontlines gives you the kind of perspective where you almost feel ungracious about the concerns you have for yourself,” says Cho.

“The concern about not walking the stage, not having a graduation ceremony, the feeling of helplessness as we wait to write the NCLEX, or the social anxiety and loneliness that come from quarantine and social distancing all seem like such minute issues. It’s important to use this perspective not to dismiss our concerns, but to practice gratitude and inform a hopeful attitude to promote unity in the face of something so unprecedented.”

Cho says it’s all about perspective and chooses to remain positive and hopeful, studying for her NCLEX exam and continuing to apply for jobs.

As for law school? Cho says that her plan is to work as a nurse in the field for a few years and then to pursue her law degree. “I think working as a nurse will help inform the gaps in health-care policy that exist and having an understanding of the law could be a cool synergistic way to incorporate nursing, policy and advocacy all into one.”

What first drew you to nursing?

“The opportunity to meaningfully meet and interact with so many different people. I was inspired by the prospect of having the capacity to support individuals during what could be their first experience with an injury, the hardest moments amongst family and friends or the greatest celebration of health and recovery.

“When I applied to nursing, I had no idea in what area I would want to practice. I just knew I wanted to learn how to best support people in their own journeys to discover their individualistic definition of optimal health and wellness, while also being able to be a supporter and advocate during acute moments of struggle and pain.” 

Why did you choose UCalgary Nursing?

“My initial draw to UCalgary Nursing was the versatility promoted by the program. It allows for extreme flexibility in the first year to explore courses in other faculties and then slowly integrates you to experience the versatility of nursing prior to introduction in the acute care setting. During the first year, I was able to explore my interest in legal studies and basic economics.

“UCalgary Nursing provides so much opportunity for student involvement in leadership, initiatives and in research. I was attracted to the prospect of being able to grow not only as a student and a future nurse, but also to grow as a leader and researcher and consistently challenge my creativity and innovative approach to various situations.”

What has been a memorable experience for you during your time at UCalgary Nursing and why?

“During my final preceptorship and final months working towards walking the stage, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic as the spread of Covid-19 grew exponentially.

“Near the end of my program, there was definitely pressure for nursing students to complete their hours required for graduation. Working towards this goal with the feeling of impending doom as health-care professionals entered crisis mode led to 20 back-to-back shifts without being able to see friends or family because of social distancing. Couple that with the sense of imposter syndrome we get as students when attending to the concerns of first-time parents terrified to bring their babies home, completing my final preceptorship was certainly a bittersweet moment; I enjoyed my time at the NICU so much and wished I could stay even longer and learn even more, but was also cognizant of the requirements for graduation.

“One of the most rewarding moments for me throughout this program was when I was able to provide care for a faculty member’s child in the NICU. Working toward becoming an expert, confident and competent to care for the people who have been our cheerleaders throughout our program brings you a lot of perspective in terms of your personal growth over the four years. Sometimes we forget just how clueless we were at the beginning because we’re constantly still learning the vast knowledge that is the human body and life.”

Cho with peers in Term 3 at UCalgary Nursing.

Cho with peers in Term 3 at UCalgary Nursing.

What most excites you about the future of nursing and the profession itself?

“If I’ve learned anything, especially in my final year as a nursing student, it’s that the profession of nursing, medicine and health care is such an evolving continuum of knowledge that there is always something new to learn. Committing to this profession is committing to a lifetime of learning, challenging existing perspectives and ideas, exploring creative solutions, and that is something that fuels my personal drive.”

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

“I would love to re-explore my interest in law. I would ideally love to advocate for patients outside the realm of primary health-care delivery. Having a legal background to inform and advocate for changes in the industry that meaningfully protects health-care professionals while exploring creative solutions to increase accessibility for all people would be an area that I would love to explore.”

Any advice for nursing students in their earlier years of study?

“You’ll see things and experience interactions that are so unique to our faculty and profession, that the people to best understand and support you through all the ‘firsts’ are the peers, upper-years and staff who have experienced the same. The first loss of a patient, first IV poke, first close-call medication error, the first procedure that makes you queasy, the first reprimand from an angry attending physician…these are all experiences that demand fast maturation as a nursing student.

“My advice? Really find your people and when you do, hold onto them tight. Valuing relationships is integral to delivering meaningful personalized patient care, but I also think it’s as important when attending to ourselves too.”

Luxury in life you can’t live without?

“I would be much more stir crazy and much more late to everything without the beautiful luxury of my car and the attached speakers.”

What’s your motto?

“Always remember that every person and interaction has something to teach you as long as you’re open to learning.”