Oct. 28, 2022

Flex Friday: Naomi Hewa Wellappulige

Flex Friday is brought to you by your VP Communications, Undergraduate Nursing Society to showcase the excellence of our undergraduate nursing students at UCalgary
Naomi Hewa Wellappulige
Naomi Hewa Wellappulige, third-year nursing student, UCalgary

We’re finally back with Flex Friday! This week, we’re introducing Naomi, a third-year direct entry student currently completing Term 5 this fall. Naomi was once part of the Year One Nursing Council (YONC), and although first year presented many challenges online, she has since taken on many leadership initiatives, and is particularly passionate about advocacy for older adults in long-term care. Meet Naomi!

Why nursing?
“The answer has kind of changed,” Naomi said, remembering being interested in several different career fields. “I had a lot of positive volunteer experiences before I started nursing.” Those included in long-term care (LTC), with younger children, and even tutoring students in order to find her passion. Regarding her experience in LTC, Naomi said: “I really liked that person-to-person aspect of things and I just like seniors a lot. I like talking to them more than kids.

“I realized that I liked the nurse-patient relationship more than how the disease process works,” she added.

I like learning more about the person more than about what disease is running through them.

Naomi said that over the years, she’s been able to appreciate the privilege of caring for people when they’re at their worst.

What work or volunteering opportunities have prepared you for nursing? 
Naomi previously worked as a supervisor at Shoppers Drug Mart. Although it’s not a typical health-care job, she shared that her experiences in customer service – and surprisingly responding to many emergencies – have certainly helped introduce her to a career in nursing.

“Customers can be a lot sometimes, but it’s taught me a lot about how to communicate with people,” Naomi explained. “I’ve dealt with more medical emergencies at Shoppers than I would’ve imagined and I’ll use stuff learned from clinical at Shoppers all the time. Compassionate care really does come in handy when you’re talking to customers.”

During the summer, Naomi also worked as a companion to older adults in living retirement homes. Speaking about a particular client, she shared: “We just do a bunch of fun stuff. I’ll take her to get ice cream all the time.” Since her shifts were short, Naomi liked being able to schedule work between other commitments throughout the day. Her duties included light cleaning, physiotherapy exercises, meal support and much more.

“It’s basically just like hanging out with someone,” she explained. “I feel like it’s a great role if you’re still a little bit nervous about talking to patients. And the families are also amazing to work with and I still get to use some of my nursing skills, like compassionate care and communication.”

Interestingly, Naomi mentioned that the transition from school to working over the summer was particularly challenging. She described that adjusting to the break after the stress of the semester took lots of time. “I still had to sit at my desk sometimes because I didn’t feel okay.” 

Naomi Hewa Wellappulige

Do you have any other extra-curricular experiences? 
Naomi has a long history of volunteering at Bethany Care, beginning when she was 13 years old. While she doesn’t volunteer regularly any more, she continues to be involved with the organization. “I met so many nice people who used to be nurses and so many sweet older people. It was really nice and it prepared me to work with people with dementia quite fast.

“I was 13 or 14 and I was assigned to a restricted floor,” Naomi recalls. “I’m walking up to the door and punching in the code and someone comes in and pushes me to the floor, trying to escape.”

A code was quickly called and the event became an important learning moment for Naomi. While she was initially hesitant about returning to volunteer at the facility, her mother convinced her otherwise. “My mom said ‘give it a chance. Not everything is going to be ideal your first time around.’” After taking some time, Naomi eventually returned to Bethany and continued to volunteer for many years afterward. “I’m super thankful my mom had an intervention with me. I realized it’s not them, it’s the dementia.”

Naomi continues to recognize the stigma of dementia and mental illness in her community. “It’s scary if you’ve never seen that before, or your only depiction of dementia is from movies,” she acknowledged.

What are your future plans for nursing?
Although Naomi has a strong connection to the older adult population, she doesn’t see herself working in LTC in the long term. Regardless, Naomi continues to enjoy working with older adults. “I really want to be an ER nurse,” she said. “I really fell in love with the adrenaline rush of anything that happened at Shoppers. I want to be able to use all of my skills and to get good at those bedside skills.”

Naomi has been enjoying learning about acute care in Term 5 and is excited to continue throughout the semester. “So far, Term 5 has been such a rollercoaster, but being on a surgical unit has been a great introduction to acute care,” she said. 

What was your school experience like?
Regarding first year and the circumstances of the pandemic, Naomi said: “I had higher hopes. I was really looking forward to the anatomy labs and was super disappointed when those were canceled.” She found that making friends was also difficult during the pandemic.

In first year, however, Naomi served as co-chair of YONC. “That’s the whole reason why I decided to join YONC, was to meet friends in the faculty.” Despite the circumstances, this experience allowed her to connect with several other students in the faculty, many of whom she remains close with. “It really taught me more about leadership and learning how to be super adapting and flexible.”

Naomi regrets that outside of YONC, first-year nursing didn’t offer many other nurse-related experiences.

If I didn’t join YONC, my whole life would have been different because I would’ve never even thought to reach out to anybody.

How was second-year? 
“I actually really liked Term 3,” Naomi said, although she agreed that much of the content would have been nice to have earlier in the program. For her placement, Naomi met with seniors weekly as part of an arts program. “It was really cool to do something that was actually researched for people with dementia. It didn’t feel like we were forcing them to paint. It felt like something they were able to do and to feel proud of their work.”

Naomi also recalled her experiences in Term 4. “Everyone was super excited to be in scrubs. I even put them on the day before,” she laughed. However, she also found this semester to be very challenging. “I feel like LTC is so neglected in the health-care system. It’s to the point where staff can’t save it, administrators can’t save it, and the owners can’t save it.” Naomi remembered witnessing overwhelming staff burnout and high turnover rates during this semester.

“They were really working us,” Naomi added, regarding her facility. “They expected us to know a lot of things as soon as we got there, which was really stressful when we’ve only performed skills in lab.” She also felt that it was difficult knowing there was lots to do, yet being limited by her scope as as a student. She shared that an important lesson was to realize that even during the morning rush of preparing everyone for the day, it’s vital to remember that you’re still working with people. Naomi also felt that the circumstances of the pandemic and the effects of social isolation were very difficult to witness during her placement.

Regardless of the circumstances, Naomi shared that Term 4 was an important semester to understand the basics of patient care. “It’s not glamourized like Grey’s Anatomy. Everyone’s going to wipe a butt. That’s just how it is.”

Selfie of Naomi and friends

What do you think are your biggest nursing strengths?
Leadership and communication are among her strengths and the importance of asking for help. “I think something I need to work on is being less nervous about going into new situations. I’m excited, but I’m also anxious that I’m going to hurt someone.”

What have been some highs and lows from nursing so far?
“When you have a really good day at clinical,” Naomi said. “When things just happen right or when you start getting into the groove of things.” She added: “The first two weeks of clinical are usually when you’re getting used to things and that time can be rough. You’re beating yourself up and if you’re not making connections to your learning, you’re asking yourself, ‘Why do I suck?’ But it’s also like, ‘I just started, I shouldn’t be beating myself up.’ And then you get stuck in this horrible cycle.”

Naomi explained that over the years, she’s worked on dwelling less on these bad moments. “Letting go has definitely been a strength I've developed in the last couple years,” she said. "I used to really overthink, to the point where it was getting in the way of my regular life. Now when something happens, I just let it go. Me overthinking it isn’t going to change it."

Was nursing everything you expected?  
“I think it’s everything I’ve expected and even a little bit more,” Naomi said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last two years and I’m very different from the person who applied to nursing. I’m very happy and proud about that fact.”

For incoming students, Naomi has some recommendations. “Keep an open mind. Really take what others say with a grain of salt. If you’re talking to a stressed Term 5 student in the middle of midterms, they’re not going to have the best impression of nursing for you.” She also advises students be kind to themselves and to continue doing the things they enjoy.

You can find a balance; It’s possible. Stay committed to the reason why you joined nursing in the first place. Don’t ever lose that.

Naomi in front of mountain and lake

Rapid fire! 

Best place to study on campus? 
“TFDL. I love the ambiance. Every floor has a different vibe.” 

Naomi also recommended not-so-studying at the Engineering lounge. “You’ll always find a nursing student in there. Even though we complain so much about engineers, we’re always there.” 

What did you do over the summer? 
“I traveled a little and visited Victoria and Montreal. Also – Stampede!” 

Self-care or hobbies? 
“I go to the gym. I’m not a gym rat at all, but I try to go three to four times a week. It’s a great study break. I used to competitively dance, but now I do dance and yoga classes every so often. And I love the board game cafe and just having a good laugh with the homies.” 

Biggest role models? 
“My grandma. She dropped out of nursing school to take care of her kids and I just want to live out her dream. She would be an amazing nurse. So much gets thrown her way and she’s just so chill about it.” Naomi shared that her parents have also been important role models as well.

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