“Who is…” is a new StoryLine series that features and celebrates the many employees, physicians, volunteers and others who make up Eastern Health. These are the individuals who are part of the fabric of our organization and who contribute to making a difference in the community and to health care every day. We hope that you, our readers, enjoy learning about Eastern Health – who we are, what we do, and how and why we do it – as much as we enjoy telling you!
Who is….Paula Fifield?
Paula Fifield, from St. John’s, is a nursing instructor with the Centre for Nursing Studies, Eastern Health. Paula just celebrated 45 years working with the organization and it’s easy to tell that teaching nursing students is not just a job she loves but it’s a passion of hers. Paula is also a loving mother of three and grandmother of four and it’s obvious she’s a fun-loving and inspirational person who has no plans to retire just yet. We asked her questions about why she loves the work she does, what kind of changes she’s seen over the years and we even had a chance to ask some fun questions to get to know Paula a little better.
What brought you to Eastern Health?
I entered the General Hospital School of Nursing in 1970 and graduated in 1973. I started work following graduation and have worked here ever since. When I started my nursing program, I lived in a dorm room on the eighth floor at Southcott Hall and I worked at the General Hospital, now the Dr. Leonard A. Miller Centre, until the Health Sciences Centre opened in 1978. I have come full circle and have been working at Southcott Hall since August 1999.
What changes in nursing have you seen over 45 years?
Over the past 45 years, I have experienced many changes in nursing, nursing education and health care. As third year nursing students back then, we worked the same as RNs. The hospital gave us our schedules, so we worked full-time at 20-years-old except for a class day every month or so. There was one unit I worked on that had 29 patients. For eight hours, I worked alongside a nursing assistant, which is what the licensed practical nurses were called then, to care for these patients.
Back then, patients then did not require the same level of care as patients today. Their stays were for four to six weeks. If we had an assignment of four patients, you might have one or two patients who were in bed and the others would be up and around getting ready to be discharged. We got to know patients with longer stays very well.
With the improvements in health care, people are living longer with chronic conditions and those in hospital have illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension. Patients in acute care are very ill now, more than in the 1970s. Everything is more complex now, including medications, access lines and treatments.
How long have you been in your current role?
I have been the clinical placement coordinator for 11 years. I began my career in nursing education in 1987 as a nursing instructor at the General Hospital School of Nursing. I stayed until the General Hospital School of Nursing closed in 1998 and then moved to the Centre for Nursing Studies where I worked as a nursing instructor I in clinical and labs. In 2005, I took the position of instructional resource centre coordinator and, in 2008, I came into this position as clinical placement coordinator.
What does your day-to-day work look like?
Every day is different. For certain courses such as medicine/surgery or obstetrics, students are required to be placed on a clinical unit so that they can become comfortable in a health-care setting and put into practice the knowledge and skills that they are learning in the classroom and labs. Planning for these placements starts months in advance of the clinical start date. We have different courses each semester for the Bachelor of Nursing, Practical Nursing and Continuing Nursing Studies programs. The number of students enrolled in each clinical course determines the number of units or areas required. There are approximately 700 nursing students who require clinical placements for programs at the Centre for Nursing Studies on an annual basis.
Because nursing students from the Centre for Nursing Studies and the Faculty of Nursing at MUN share these clinical placements, we also share the planning work for placing students on the clinical units. I work with another clinical placement coordinator at the Centre for Nursing Studies and the clinical placement coordinator at MUN to ensure the students are placed on the appropriate units so that they can meet their clinical objectives and graduation requirements.
Why did you switch from hands-on nursing to teaching?
I began taking nursing courses at Memorial University in 1974 and I received my Bachelor of Nursing Degree in 1982. I was working part-time at the Health Sciences Centre in 1985 when an opportunity became available at the General Hospital School of Nursing. I decided to apply as it was an area of nursing that I was interested in pursuing.
I loved working on the units with the students and patients. Then the Instructional Resource Centre position became available. I had three children and my husband travelled so it was convenient for me because I could work around everyone’s schedule. When the clinical placement coordinator position opened up, I felt it would be a good challenge and something I really wanted to do. I have been here ever since.
Why were you interested in a career in nursing/health care?
Growing up, I read all of the Cherry Ames novels. These were popular books about a nurse who solved mysteries – they were kind of like Nancy Drew books. I don’t know if those books had anything to do with why I chose nursing, but I did think it would be interesting and it certainly has been; it has been a “short” 45 years!
What have been the highlights of your career to date?
Almost every day could be defined as a highlight. When I go to the hospital and I see someone who I’ve taught and they say, “I haven’t seen you in a long time” or “Remember when you taught me in clinical”, that is a highlight for me. Receiving my 45-year pin was also a highlight. If someone, a former student or patient, comes and says thank you or says something like “you were so good to us”, they are truly special moments and ones I enjoy.
What makes you proud about the work you do at Eastern Health?
When I see nurses, who have graduated from the Centre for Nursing Studies or the General Hospital School of Nursing, working and doing an excellent job, that makes me very proud. When I go to any health-care facility, I always meet someone I know through their nursing program, in various roles in health care. When I see them on the job looking so professional, I feel really good that I had a part in their success.
If you could spend a day in another role in the organization, what would it be?
I have had a wonderful and satisfying working career with Eastern Health. I don’t want any other role – no hesitation at all. I’m quite happy in this role and I wouldn’t want any other career path. I have gained great fulfillment in my nursing career and I’m proud of the contributions I have made and continue to make for the profession of nursing.
You’ve come full circle in terms of where you work (old General Hospital). If you knew then that you would be back, what would you have thought?
I would have never thought that I would be working at the same location where I started out. I expected that I would be retired and travelling with my husband, but he died eight years ago so that changed my life. When you’re on your own, it is very different. The people I work with are my extended family and they are the best ever. I enjoy the students, all the faculty and the staff at the Centre for Nursing Studies and I really enjoy my job as clinical placement coordinator. This makes me happy.
What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?
When we were in training, we were told to choose a nurse we really admired and model yourself after them. There were several nurses I really respected during my career but there was one in particular – the head nurse on 3South at the General Hospital. I aspired to be like her. I still talk to her now and then and we exchange Christmas cards. She was very caring to the patients and their families and to all of us nurses who worked with her. She was and still is a wonderful person. We laughed and we cried and we gave excellent nursing care to our patients. It was a pleasure working on that unit.
What is the best advice you give to your nursing students?
I advise nursing students to keep an open mind and, most importantly, to treat patients and their families like they or their family would want to be treated. People may sometimes be angry but in this situation, they are often sick, worried or afraid. I advise students to be kind to everybody and to treat patients like they would want to be treated so that they’ll never have to wish they had done something differently.
If I had a relative in hospital, I would want them to be treated in a very kind, honest, understanding way. If a patient has their meal come up and the water for their tea is not hot enough, I would go get them another pot of hot water. That’s not too much trouble to me, that’s what caring is about. You can’t be too kind to people!
If you weren’t a nursing instructor, what would you be?
I would like to be a professional shopper! I love to shop especially at Winners – it’s my stress release. I just like to wander and browse.
I like to assist with fund-raising activities too. When the General Hospital School of Nursing (GHSN) was closing, we did a lot of fundraising for the GHSN Archives. I put together many baskets and sold a lot of tickets.
Nursing students at the Centre for Nursing Studies and MUN’s School of Nursing have an annual charity ball with proceeds going to a local charity. I love being involved in this. I collect donations from faculty and staff and put it together for the student committee.
How do you spend your free time?
In addition to shopping, I love to read and listen to country music. I also watch TV, especially “Coronation Street” and “Call the Midwife”, any mystery/medical series and I love baseball. My favourite thing to do is to spend time with my grandchildren. Benjamin and Norah live in Conception Bay South and Luke and Amelia live in Grand Falls-Windsor. When they come to town, we all get together and have a great time.
What do you like to read?
I love murder mysteries. Patricia Cornwall and Michael Connolly are two of my favourite authors. I love their work. I used to read the Sue Grafton alphabet series. Some romance novels are also enjoyable. I like Jodi Picoult and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series; Karen Swan writes a lot of good books too.
What are your favourite foods?
Like a lot of people, I love things I shouldn’t eat like potato chips and candy! I like steak with a baked potato and I love marshmallow squares. But I wouldn’t be able to live without my favourite food – chocolate! ■