We provide specialized care to people living with HIV in a community setting.
I went to McMaster University and I have a bachelor's degree in nursing and health sciences. I also have a minor in anthropology.
I've had an interest in HIV for many, many years. I've also been to Kenya to do work there. It combines my desire to work with marginalized populations and my awareness that HIV is really the most complex virus on earth. It's a very challenging medical field. We don't have a cure yet, so there's a lot to learn.
My education was somewhat dynamic, in the sense that it was focused on small-group learning. McMaster has a lot of tutorial-style classes focused on group discussions, debates, learning, communications strategy and working in a team that had very practical applications to my job. Generally, in medicine, there's always a focus on problem-solving, and HIV demands increasingly complex solutions.
There was also a lot of flexibility in the program to address my own learning needs through specific placements. My interest in public health took me to various conferences and a planning committee as well.
I enrolled in nursing school knowing I didn't want to work in a hospital. I had one particular placement with a nurse working for the city of Hamilton's community housing division, the only nurse for 20,000 social housing units. The residents were people whose housing security was threatened by their health. That was a unique experience, and it shaped my focus on community health.
With HIV, the primary focus is no longer palliative care. People are living longer, healthier lives with HIV, but palliation is definitely part of the spectrum.
You have to be very aware of an individual's needs and how you can best support them, especially in palliation. When you're providing home care, you're on their turf. Everyone has a different idea of how they see themselves passing, so you're trying to provide the most supportive care by making people comfortable, safe and cared for in their home environments.
You have to be flexible and open-minded, since you may be working with clients who have very difficult past and present issues such as trauma, substance abuse and mental health problems.
The most difficult experience can be seeing someone's health decline and not be able to help them if their health is not their focus. With HIV, your health is compromised for your whole life, and some people burn out taking care of themselves.
Being able to work with such a strong team is the best part of my job. Helping people live healthy and fulfilled lives with HIV is really a blessing. You're respecting their choices, celebrating their lives and supporting them as best you can.
It's definitely an honour to be able to care for people.