Aug. 10, 2023

Flex Friday: Sutton Garner

Flex Friday is brought to you by your VP Communications, Undergraduate Nursing Society to showcase the excellence of our undergraduate nursing students at UCalgary
Girl in purple shirt and jeans

Welcome to the 2023/24 year’s Flex Friday series! This week, we’re introducing Sutton Garner, a third-year direct entry student entering Term 5 this fall. Sutton has done extensive work alongside nursing school to care for vulnerable populations in Calgary’s communities. Sheis passionate about reflective practice in any setting she works in. Meet Sutton!

Why are you pursuing nursing?

Sutton speaks to the way her parents fostered a culture of nurturing and compassion throughout her life, along with a sustained interest in anatomy and physiology, as they both worked in community and public service industries. “When I was eight, we were raising money for the Rockyview NICU'' she says, a place where she received a tour of the units and thus developed an interest in the paediatric population.

Can you share about what you would like to do after graduation?

“I’m not exactly certain where I want to practice as a nurse, but I figure it’ll have something to do with acute care,or working with vulnerable populations.” Sutton’s interests lie in critical thinking and applied scientific knowledge and she says, “My experience with I Can For Kids has definitely developed my interest in the socioeconomic determinants of health.”

Can you tell me a little bit more about I Can For Kids?

In 2015, at age 11, Sutton became the spokesperson and cofounder of the collaborative community initiative, I Can For Kids, “We provide [an] evidence-based, year-round grocery gift card program that empowers food-insecure families with the dignity and confidence to plan, purchase and provide the foods that best meet their family’s unique needs.”

Sutton speaks about her motivation to start the foundation when considering the lack of school lunch programs during summer break. To address this, the foundation started as a summer-only food package delivery program which evolved to a year-round “grocery gift card model.” The latter model has been the topic of a study within the O’Brien Institute of Public Health at the University of Calgary, with results that support an increase in access to unique food requirements, dignity, and autonomy of the population of interest. “It pays off to be bold; you gotta stir the pot here and there.”

Young girl in paediatric unit

When Sutton Garner was eight, her family helped to raise money for the Rockyview NICU where she received a tour of the units.

What work or extracurricular activities are you involved in?

Currently, Sutton works as an HCA after having just completed Term 4 of her nursing education. “It’s definitely given me insight into the various needs and challenges within various populations.” The facility Sutton works in cares for residents in supportive living to long-term care for patients living with advanced dementia. Sutton reflects on the perspective that she has acquired from just having completed Term 4 to now working as an HCA and says “it has taught me to manage the needs of the person, not just the illness…it really encourages holistically looking past the residents’ health challenges to making the environment suited to their health values, beliefs, and wishes, more than that transactional [thinking that] I’m going to fix your disease.

When did you feel most successful during your nursing career so far?

“It wasn’t when I did well on an exam or test, it was when I saw a patient smile a little bit extra…it was gratifying to make someone’s day more hopeful or comfortable.” Sutton explains that, to her, patient-centered care means meeting clients and their health challenges where they are, instead of focusing treatment on where one wants them to be.

In your perspective, what is your greatest strength and challenge in nursing?

“My compassion and curiosity drive my practice. As a nurse, I aspire to humanize medical care for my patients, capitalizing on genuine empathy and caring for them as a person, not a disease.”

Sutton makes a profound connection between curiosity being a basis for solving complex health issues by allowing professionals to “embody their clients’ circumstances.”

When asked about her challenges, Sutton shares a greater appreciation for burnout and “trying to find a balance between home life and work life.” She also shares feelings of imposter syndrome in clinical settings relating to attempts to find a way to take space while being humble and yet confident in her skills. However, Sutton comments on the professional evolution she experiences from asking questions from mentors and instructors in such situations. “Your career will be a mosaic of everything you’ve taken in.”

Sutton, third from left, with other UCalgary Nursing students.

Sutton, third from left, with other UCalgary Nursing students.

How has the transition from nursing theory to clinical practice been for you?

“I’m actually kind of thankful for not being chucked into the deep end…yet,” Sutton jokes. She reflects on the importance she has derived from recognizing community and public health as theoretical foundations, and long-term care as the practical foundation of our health-care system. “It was also helpful to have a great instructor” who promoted higher standards early in their students’ nursing careers.

What has been your favourite subject so far, or is one that you are looking forward to?

“I love physiology; just anything to do with how things work in the body.” Sutton excitedly shares her anticipation for her upcoming Terms 5 and 6, in which she hopes to understand the impact of pharmacological treatments on the body to a greater extent. She also mentions her interests in paediatric populations and in the cardiovascular and endocrine systems, comparing them to the likes of the solar system. “They are both the centre of the universe in the body in a unique way.”

Any advice for incoming students?

“It is a journey; you go through the hard, ugly, wonderful, [and] chaotic. It’s important to always stay humble but remain confident in your knowledge, skills and character.”

Sutton shares her thoughts on the versatility in nursing and the importance of making even the slightest difference in settings that may not align with students’ initial pretenses about nursing school. “I wish I was told this earlier, but it’s okay to lose your spark in nursing…the beauty is you can help people in so many different ways and environments that you may find your passion in unexpected places.” She expands on the unrealistic expectation of feeling satisfaction in every moment during a career in health care and to let the smaller moments carry greater meaning in one’s drive to pursue such careers.

Girl hiking

Sutton says one of her favourite activities is hiking

Rapid Fire!

Best place to study on campus?

“Anywhere with comfy couches and outlets. If I need to grind [some work out], I prefer the Science Theatre basement for quick access to cinnamon buns.”

What are some things you like to do for fun?

“Just adventuring in the outdoors, [it’s] good for the soul and nature is a good centering place; it provides clarity and peace that we need from nursing school. Something to satisfy my curiosity and challenge my comfort zone.” Her favourite activities in particular are “hiking, camping, and paddle boarding…. I think flying is pretty cool too – someday when I win the lottery, I’ll get my pilot’s license!”

What has your summer looked like so far?

Sutton has had extensive road-tripping and camping adventures so far this summer, from crossing borders to finding the greatest national parks. “We went down from Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and then we came across California, Oregon, Washington and back up through BC.”

Who are your greatest role models?

Sutton mentions her parents: “I want to be like them when I grow up…their lifestyle and work ethic is reflected in mine.”

Favourite Mac Hall Spot or in the University District?

“I would say Freshii or [Village] Ice Cream: you can’t go wrong with ice cream.”

Final words

“I’ll end on this quote from Robin Williams in Patch Adams, ‘When you treat a disease, you win, you lose, but when you treat a person, I guarantee you that you’ll win no matter what the outcome.’”

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