March 10, 2021

Rural RN advances her practice in addictions and mental health with graduate certificate

Aizenosa Idahosa balances master's studies at UCalgary Nursing and work with older adults at long-term care facility in Vulcan, Alta.
Aizenosa Idahosa is an RN in a 46-bed, long-term care facility in Vulcan, Alberta.
Aizenosa Idahosa is an RN in a 46-bed, long-term care facility in Vulcan, Alta.

When UCalgary Nursing’s graduate team decided to implement an addiction and mental health specialization in their graduate certificate program, it was not long before a pandemic necessitated making mental health and well-being a priority.

Now the certificate, intended for enhancing health-care professionals' skills in listening, planning and enacting positive change for clients and their own identified supports, seems almost a mandatory requirement for anyone working in the mental health and addiction field as well as for their own personal wellness.

Aizenosa Idahosa is an RN in a 46-bed long-term care facility in Vulcan, Alta. A natural desire to help others in a career specific to mental health combined with her wish to return to school motivated her to enrol in the Addiction and Mental Health Graduate Certificate specialization. So far, she says, the courses have given her more patience in her role with older adults as their declining physical health is directly linked to their mental health.

“In long-term care, quality of life and social/emotional satisfaction are the core goals for care which are similar to the goals in coping with mental illness,” she explains, adding that learning about mental health has also helped her focus on her personal mental wellness and improved her self-awareness.

“I have experienced some mental health challenges that kept me frozen in place for months at a time,” Idahosa confides.

Coming from a traditional/religious culture combined with being an immigrant, I felt like mental illness could not affect me and I should be able to handle it. Many cultures and groups hold this belief as well and I want to make mental health conversations as commonplace and easy as those we have about physical health.

Faculty member Dr. Graham McCaffrey, PhD, who co-teaches (with instructor and nurse practitioner Sandy Strachan) the second course in the certificate that focuses on therapeutic practices, says they have a ‘recovery approach’ to the class.

“It is not about cure, but about people living as well as possible with mental illness, which is highly individualized and can include many different kinds of interventions at different points in their lives.”

McCaffrey, whose area of research expertise is mental health, says he already has a sense of new ways to think about addictions and mental health nursing from teaching at this advanced level.

“It’s challenging when the students know so much already, and it expanded my knowledge into areas I had never worked in myself. Having the certificate course and working with students who bring a lot of expertise and ideas will move how we think about addictions and mental health nursing, integrating many different kinds of approaches around patient and family needs.”

Course instructors of the Addictions and Mental Health graduate certificate at UCalgary Nursing.

Course instructors of the Addictions and Mental Health graduate certificate at UCalgary Nursing. From left, Graham McCaffrey, Sandy Strachan and Jacqueline Smith. (Photo taken in 2019)

Strachan, who teaches across all courses in the certificate, says that in addition to challenging students to advance their own practice in addictions in mental health, the courses are also designed to help students recognize their own mental health and wellness.

You cannot give from an empty cup; it is important to our profession, and to ourselves, that we address our own mental health needs.

"That’s why we put some emphasis on self-care in each course throughout the specialization. We need to help mitigate and prevent burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma from becoming endemic within the profession of nursing.”

For Idahosa, getting back to reading and writing papers has been an eye-opening experience. “I was worried that after my years away from school, I would have a difficult time returning to full-time studies, and with my current accumulation of student loans, the certificate program was best suited to my needs.

"With this program, I could return to school, work toward my master's while working part-time to pay for the course. And so far I am enjoying the Zoom sessions and the ability to communicate easily and directly with my peers and instructors.”

She hopes a teaching career in higher education is in her future as well as one-to-one counselling and therapy services for children and adolescents.

Applications for September/Fall 2021 admission to the Graduate Certificate  Program are now open. These certificates appeal to a wide audience of baccalaureate prepared nursing professionals and others in health-related disciplines who want to advance their careers in their current direct practice area, who want to transition into a new direct practice area or who want to enter more senior education, leadership or management positions.